Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is Europe taking tablet publishing more seriously than the U.S.? Or will launching branded apps prove premature?

In just a couple of days since the launch of the device in Europe, European based publications have flooded iTunes with their news readers. Of 136 news apps now in iTunes, for instance, at least 21 are for publications from Italy (many thanks to Paperlit). Are U.S. publishers just more conservative when it comes to new technology? or will the Europeans regret leaping in before understanding the new market?

Of the initial batch of first news apps for the iPad, the apps from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were the most noticed and discussed. One of reasons for this was simply that so few newspapers decided to launch tablet apps back in April. At the time this seemed like a good idea, after all, the Times app has been slammed for not providing much content, and the WSJ app has been slammed for overpricing the product.
The third big paper to join the party was USA Today which offered a free app and despite some crash issues has escaped (for the most part) the wrath of iTunes reviewers.

One app that slipped by me was the azcentral app from the Arizona Republic which appears to only be a ported over version of their iPhone app.

On Monday the first Cox Media Group iPad app appeared for the Dayton Daily News. Once again, however, it was an optimized version of their iPhone app.

Between paid and free news apps, 230 now can be found in iTunes. Certain trends are already apparent: first, U.S. papers are not in a hurry to jump on the bandwagon of tablet publishing -- maybe the rewards seem too small, the risks too great, or maybe indifference has set in; second, U.S. consumers seem far more cynical and unwilling to consider paying for content than other iPad owners. Reviews of paid U.S. apps usually begin and end with the thought that no app that contains ads should have a price tag on it. European and Australian app app buyers appear to be more willing to folk over a few (fill in the blank) to read their papers on the iPad. Of course, its early in the game, and no surveys that I'm aware of have been done since the International launch.

For now, I'm trying to remain positive. It's also possible that given a couple more months we'll see a flood of individual apps for U.S. papers launched. As an American publishing pro I've worked for a number of the companies involved -- both on the newspaper and magazine sides of the publishing business. My instincts tell me that those most enthusiastic about tablets are not in the executive suites -- and with all the layoffs in the newspaper and magazine business there are probably less young people in the industry, resulting in skewed views about new technology.

A headline in the WaPo this morning asks "Was Washington Times reporter sacked for speaking out?" and then tells the story of Julia Duin and her sacking at the paper for calling the paper she worked at a "rudderless ship" (aren't they all?). The question mark was hardly necessary, but has become kind of a newspaper convention ("Does Senator SoAndSo beat his wife?") whenever a paper wants to throw some dirt under the cover of "journalism". Sadly, I used the question mark technique today, as well. I apologize.