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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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.