Is Rupert Murdoch’s iPad endorsement a look to the future, or just a sales tactic?

April 14th, 2010 by Chris Hogg Leave a reply »

If you’ve been following the hoopla around the Apple iPad, you’ve likely seen two distinct reactions: One is a very positive one that hails the iPad as the Next Big Thing, while the other view is quite critical, saving the gadget is simply an oversized iPod.

While there has been no shortage of news pundits who claim the iPad will revitalize the news industry, I was somewhat surprised to see Rupert Murdoch among them. Murdoch believes the iPad will be the saviour of print media in Australia. While it doesn’t necessarily surprise me Murdoch would recognize an opportunity, his public praise of the iPad comes across as more of a product endorsement than anything.

”I got a glimpse of the future … with the Apple iPad,” Murdoch said to journalist Marvin Kalb. During the interview, Murdoch reportedly sat with an iPad and even demonstrated how to browse through The Wall Street Journal‘s website. ”It is a wonderful thing,” he continued. “If you have [fewer] newspapers and more of these … it may well be the saving of the newspaper industry.”

While much of the iPad-related discussion is often accused of being hysteria created by Apple fanboys, an endorsement from the likes of Murdoch sheds a different light on the gadget. Especially when it’s dubbed a “saviour” by someone as prominent as Murdoch.

”We are going to stop people like Google or Microsoft or whoever from taking stories for nothing … there is a law of copyright and they recognise it,” he recently said to a group of students, journalists and other media professionals. ”When they have got nowhere else to go, they will start paying if it is reasonable. No one is going to ask for a lot of money.”

Murdoch’s glowing endorsement of the iPad is a clear indication his news empire will grow inside paywalls, and a gadget that encourages paid access is clearly a favourite for this media mogul.

Of course, not everyone believes the iPad has any chance of saving journalism, especially when it comes to funding large-scale journalism. As this critique notes:

  • Publishers are only saving the cost of printing and trucking printed newspapers (maybe 30 or 40 cents per copy). Other costs of producing large-scale journalism remain the same.
  • Apple will take the place of retail when it comes to commission; Apple gets a cut of app sales, which is essentially the same thing as a corner store or newspaper stand taking a cut of a paper sale. In the end it’s moving money from one source to another, but not changing an industry entirely.
  • Revenues will decline from readers. Citing Australian numbers, media commentator Eric Beecher notes customers who currently pay $12/week for a printed newspaper will pay a fraction of that when buying apps.
  • Finally, revenue from advertisers will fall, as audiences are smaller.How many media consumers will pay for apps when the Internet is open and free? The iPad is Internet-enabled, and comes with a very functional browser, so it’s not always a safe to assume people will flock to apps.

I think there is a lot of value in this criticism. While I do expect to see a successful future for the iPad, I have to disagree that it will be journalism’s saviour.

In the end, I’m taking Murdoch’s endorsement of the iPad as more of a sales tactic than a premonition. After all, he’s selling papers.

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