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. 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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.