Tablet Vision Redux

Back in the dawn of time - well, OK, in 1994 - I was the executive producer of an exciting bit of movie making called "The Tablet Newspaper: A Vision for the Future."

For that video, we created a tablet out of plastic and moldingmaterials. And then -- through the power of FX -- it magically had aworking pen-touch interface. You could  see an animated map of conflictin Bosnia, watch a short clip of a college ballplayer with a sportsstory, and place an order for take out food.

The table was sleek and black and had a clever logo proclaiming it "TheTablet." I don't think we were going to win any awards for namingcreativity.

In this video vision, the daily newspaper (the mythical Knight-Ridder Current) somehow got to your tablet every day.

This was back when downloading a single low res photo into a web browser was a really big deal and 1 K = 1 second was a design guideline. But no matter, through FX we again cheerfully skipped over that detail too.

In the video, you started out the morning over coffee, tablet in hand,newspaper on tablet. Family and kids were in the background and theTablet was just part of your daily routine.

This was the FUTURE. (cue inspirational and vaguely futuristic electronic music...)

I think that future is here.

Weird, but true.

Last week, the most hardcore of all paper magazines, the text of all text - The New Yorker - announced its iPad edition.

It joins The Wall St. Journal, Esquire, PC World, Car & Driver,and literally thousands more ... all making the leap since the iPad wasintroduced just a few short months ago, this past January.

Some of these publications are directly developing and designing for the iPad. That's what The New Yorker is doing. It has an animated cover, extra digital material, and the like.

Conde Nast, the publishing giant that owns The New Yorker, as well at GQ, Wired, Vanity Fair, Glamour, and others, is committed to exploring a digital reader initiative. However, that's not quite as simple as it sounds.

The roadblock isn't getting interesting editions of core content to thereader. Nope, as you might guess, the roadblock is the revenue model.

It is easy to create cool tools ... not so easy to figure out how tomake them pay and to keep the business of publishing in business.

Back in that dawn of digital time, newspaper companies were anxious(understatement!) about the chain of ownership of readers. The telcoswere the potential rival, since they were seen as the channel throughwhich this "new media" would be delivered.

If they were the channel, the logic went, they would "own" the customer relationship. Badness!

You see, single sales are nice, but the bread and butter of publishingis a) subscriptions that go on over years and b) advertising.  Boththese require a primary relationship between publication and reader.

Apple and publishers have been wrangling with the ownership issues fastand furious. Right now, iPads can't support subscriptions -subscriptions would, after all, directly connect reader to publisher.

Over in Kindleland, Amazon and book publishers are wrangling overpricing and packaging models. Again, these set up a dynamic by whichthe reader relationship lies with the hardware developer rather thanthe content owner.

There are also companies like Zinio (http://www.zinio.com/ipad/).Zinio launched in 2001 and defines itself as a digital newsstand. Itworks with publishers as a sort of digital distribution middleman tosell and deliver magazines in a variety of digital formats.

"Zinio works closely with publishers worldwide to reinvent reading," ishow the company modestly describes itself. It claims to offer more than50,000 titles in 15 languages around the world.

Another effort is coming from the Associated Press, a not-for-profitnews cooperative of some 7,000 newspaper and broadcast outlets aroundthe world.

The AP was set up by five newspapers in New York City in 1846 to solvea business-technology problem: how to manage the cost of transmittingnews of the Mexican War by boat, horse express, and telegraph.

Last February the AP announced a project called AP Gateway to solve thecurrent hot business-technology problem: the business model betweennews content and a variety of digital platforms.

In the early and mid-90s I spent a lot of time on the road, loggingroad warrior level frequent flier miles and doing endless presentationsto media, technology, and community groups about the Future ofNewspapers.

At conferences and presentations, we would show the 'vision' video and people would chuckle.

They would point out that there was NO WAY to get something like that delivered.

People would never give up paper.

That tablet thing wasn't portable and no one was going to read while tethered to a modem!

Hah hah hah. Hah!

The funny thing is - now that we are in it -  future doesn't look allthat different from our FX heavy video. Like I said, it is kinda weird.

But pretty cool too. We are creating the future as we go. Things thatso many of us care about - reporting, writing, editing, photography,videography, and validated news - still matter.

They aren't used the same way. The delivery format has changed. Thecreation technologies are in flux. The form factor is different. Butthe need is still there and people are finding a way to meet it.

Weird -- but cool. And I have my fingers crossed that there's a realiPad in my future ... along with a subscription to The New Yorker,Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, and all kinds of other greatreads and interesting views of the world.

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