Apple iPad and the press

Will the tablet, now in its third incarnation, be the death of print journalism?

 

The take home message from Wednesday’s Press Gazette conference News on the Move was that print journalism really is done for. And as Apple geared up to release its latest model, everyone agreed that it’s mostly the iPad’s fault.

The problem is that the niche printed news used to fill (on our knees on the train, on our laps on the sofa, in our hands while queuing for a coffee) – is no longer there. We can check our phones for news while waiting at Starbucks, our PCs at work and at home, and our Apple iPads at any point in between when we happen to be sitting down.  The space for paper is, well, not even paper thin.

Printed content had, for a while, a privileged position – the sofa.  From the sofa, before the iPad, people were restricted to magazines, papers, and TV. To access other types of media, you had to go and sit at the PC, or find a table for your laptop (a misnomer, as one speaker noted – the iPad is the real laptop). Not so now.

Before going on we should note that other tablets are really not worth talking about. As one speaker put it, “the only reason you have an Android tablet is if your Granny gets confused in the shop”.  According to research firm Forrester, Apple has 73 per cent of the tablet market, and no Android tablet maker has more than a 5 per cent share against it. There is no "tablet market", it turns out – only an iPad market.

The iPad market, then, is really levelling the playing field in terms of journalistic content. Access is not restricted by medium any more, and this is reflected in the ever-tumbling print sales.

The iPad may have left journalism broken, but like a bullied younger sibling it is still trailing around after its tormentors, wanting to join in.

At the Press Gazette conference, much was made of the various spikes in web traffic for news sites via the different media, and these might be monetised.

A quick breakdown:

6am – 9am: "Commuting Spike": increased traffic on phones on the way in to work.

9am – 10am: A “web spike” as PCs are checked for news.

12pm – 2pm: Spike as iPads used over lunch.

6pm: A further web spike as workers take a final look at the news before heading home.

10pm – 12pm: iPads checked again for news before (or - they speculated - in) bed.

The trouble, though, is that profits made online are unlikely make up for the losses in print sales. According to Pew, the journalism research centre, news organisations lose $7 for every $1 gained when a customer moves their subscription from print to digital.  Still, news organisations hope to find a way to adapt. Models vary - but none seems to have struck gold yet.

One interesting departure from the usual model is the FT. They have dropped the Apple app, and instead have an HTML5 app. Their reasoning? Apple take a 30 per cent cut, which the FT can now avoid, and the HTML5 app can be used on android - which may be negligible on tablets – but becomes significant on phones.

But perhaps it’s a waste of time chasing consumers from one device to the next.

FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw said:  “Our policy is not to second guess the consumer. Consumers hop from one device to another. The key is to have one login and one password, which will get you to our content from any device.”

And perhaps a considered burial of heads in sand is the way to go. If there's one thing everyone could agree on, it's that we have no idea what terrifying digital contraption will be released next.

 

No reason not to use an iPad, Getty images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.