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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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s echoes of New Labour

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through bold policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s strategy was so successful that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness.

But, as some say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh; when you make, as you will, bad decisions; when the list of enemies grows long; when you’ve simply had your time; you’ll fall like all the rest. Only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. The debate on 21 May between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of a sure outcome – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. That is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’être is independence; everything else is just another brick to build the path. And so its education reform cannot be either brave or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions, or parents.

The same goes for the NHS, and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature – is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “It’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs.”

Yet the voters show signs of wearying. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren.

So, during the debate, it was Nicola Sturgeon, not the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, or Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs.

There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use food banks (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster). “I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish government],” Claire Austin told the panel. “You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS.” She delivered the killer line of the evening: “Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you . . . in this election?”

The list of reasonable criticisms of the SNP’s governance is growing. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off. Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried Middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nationalists’ constitution explicitly prohibits SNP elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. Although total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing.

The word “cult” has long dogged the SNP. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning, but this has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage door at times). After the debate, Claire Austin found herself at its mercy as the Nats briefed – wrongly – that she was the wife of a Tory councillor. The SNP branch in Stirling said, Tebbitishly, that if she was having to use food banks, “Maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?”

Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, was forced to apologise for spreading “Twitter rumours” about Austin. The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but it hasn’t gone away – it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated: they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party.

I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall, it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, and its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly exasperate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and many signs that things will get worse.

How then do you arrest your fall? The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed it. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed. 

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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