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.