Thursday, March 24, 2011

'The Stranglehold of Apple', and other media myths

I have to admire the persistance of certain media writers who insist that Apple has a "stranglehold" on the media through its in-app subscription policies. Like the media commentators at a certain network, if they say it long enough eventually, maybe, people will start to believe it.

But it simply is not true.
It is not true because anyone can publish to an iPhone or iPad, and whether one charges or makes the product free, the publisher is no more committed to an "ecosystem" than a publisher is committed to a printer. But then again, this may be the result of the author not working across the media spectrum, from newspapers to magazines to broadcast.

Publishers get "locked in" to platforms all the time. Try buying recycled paper from many printers and you'll find that you are priced out. Other times you are stuck with certain paper stocks because it is all that is offered or is affordable. Platforms have limitations, all of them.

Strangely, many media critics are currently on the html bandwagon. They suddenly have rediscovered the web. None have many ideas as to how to make it pay, however. But this is, I would argue, a leftover of the old line of thinking that owning the presses means being free to do what you want. Ask any newspaper publisher if their presses, and the workforce, is liberating?

No, this journalist-centric new philosophy may make some reporters and editors, and more than a few media critics feel good, but I would be scared to death listening to these people in any serious discussion of business practices.

If 30 percent is too much to pay Apple for creating a whole new profit center, than what are the chances that online paywalls will lead to the new Nirvāna?

The problem is not mobile or tablets, its a lack of imagination on the part of newspaper publishers to visualize new products that are not exact replicas of their print or web properties. Magazine publishers who have launched native applications may not have found a gold mine, but they are not complaining as loudly either. They are still experimenting with the platform -- many are launching multiple products for their brands, one that in some ways replicate print, and others that are brand extension. This is similar to what many of these publishers have been doing on the newsstand: producing new single issue products along side their monthlies. How newspapers routinely launch new media products within the same market? No, better to lose their auto and real estate to trader publications, or help-wanted to Craig's List than to imagine a world different than what has existed throughout their careers.

All that said, I have nothing against optimized websites -- those sites that can easily be read on non-Flash iOS or Android mobile and tablet devices (reminder: very, very few Android devices can run Flash today). But the issue of monetization simply doesn't go away because a publisher has turned their backs on creating apps. Like any platform choice, a publisher doesn't have to produce any new product for any new device -- the choice is their own to make. But a reminder: it is easier to grow market share early in the game than it is later -- and it is far less costly, as well.

Stranger still is the argument that the right move is to force readers to buy print in order to get digital. Great, is all of America going to move to New York in order to read the New York Times? It doesn't work because it is not tied to any sense of reality: the reality of geography, and the reality that many, many readers no longer want print, at all.

Sorry, you can't force me to buy print if I don't want it -- that truly would be a "stranglehold".