What the collapse of the Third Reich tells us about Apple's IPad and newspapers

 This first appeared on my blog for Drum Magazine on January 30, 2010

It's clearly a somewhat inappropriate metaphor, but I can't get the image out of my head of forlorn Nazi soldiers in March 1945 waiting in vain for the Fuhrer's secret weapon to turn the course of the war and secure the destiny of the 1000-year Reich.

But I can think of no clearer parallel to the desperation shown by so many in the newspaper business in their reaction to the release of the Apple IPad. With its ability to reproduce
on-screen the experience of reading the printed word, here at last - goes the argument - is the technology that returns to a grateful world the thrill - no let me rephrase this - the divinely ordained obligation of  turning pages to receive information.

Patrick Smith on journalism.co.uk (via Martin Stabe) sums it up well:

    ... Apple’s new device is just another distribution platform for words, pictures, videos and data, just like PCs, mobiles and print. Recreating a print experience on another device is not going to solve the economic crisis news finds itself in: Google will still be more efficient at selling advertising and will still point readers to free content.

The rapturous welcome given to the potential of the IPad echoes the astonishing uptake by many newspapers of technology like Pagesuite, the software that enables titles to put animated facsimiles of their printed pages online. This betrays an inability to comprehend that other ways of distributing and receiving information can be equal to or better than print.

I thought this mindset was finally dying, and that newspapers were at last grasping that it's the content you need to concentrate on. The channels are important, sure, but if an ersatz-print experience is so important, why have readers been giving up on the real thing in their millions? Could it be that the linkable, selectable, flexible experience of the web is providing them with all the content they need?

Many newspapers will, I'm sure, delight in the chance to recreate on the IPad the 'grubby sensuality of print' (thanks again, Jo Ind - I so love that phrase), but in so doing, they become as irrelevant as those gangs of accountants and IT consultants who every weekend don WW2 uniforms to recreate the battles of old.

A quaint side effect of the IPad may well be to create an historical re-enactment movement for newspapers, but any media executive who thinks it's the secret weapon that will save the print business model is destined to die by his own hand in a bunker of his own making.

1 comment:

  1. I think the rush and mania for Ipad, Ipod, Kindles and other e-devices is simple and very often over analysed. I think it comes down to very physical tangible `needs and wants'. For example, I can't drink coffee, hold onto my bag, listen to music, read a newspaper at the same time and stay upright with no hands as I'm in the train equivalent of a Welsh cattle truck. Multi-tasking I can do but I'm not this talented!
    The solution for me is internet access, music, messages, phone, books, office software to do presentations and any other e-essentials all in one place. One gadget in one hand, drink in the other. It also means life `on the train' or on the move, is less grim, more mobile with no more spilt coffee, and no knackered back due to the weight of the work bag!
    Now off to catch the Friday 5pm Cardiff train home, to experience the `grubby sensuality of print' over the weekend with a pile of newspapers spread over the livingroom floor and a glass of vino or two....