Friday, August 10, 2012

Readers react to journalist attacks on the tablet publishing platform: "What the hell's wrong with these people"

The barrage of articles questioning the commercial potential of tablet publications has caused some TNM readers to react with, well, rage. "What's wrong with these people" one reader asked me yesterday. Several others emailed me to ask my opinion of articles such as the one on the Adweek site or several concerning The Daily and its recent downsizing.

The general feeling is that these writers are premature in posting obituaries on a platform – a platform that did not even exist before April of 2010, a mere 28 months ago. The Daily, for instance, won't celebrate (if that is the right word) its two year anniversary until February of next year.

The problem, of course, is that so many writers have made a game of things: there are Apple fanboys and haters, Android fanboys and haters, for instance. Market share stories and rumors dominate the tech media world.

Some media observers love to call attention to themselves in embarrassing ways and somehow get away with it. This guy famously dismissed the iPad saying "I simply don’t see a good use for the machine" and still gets invited to speak at events put on by the Guardian and others.

Being dead wrong about the iPad or the platform, in general, has few negative consequences. After all, the folks who said we needed to go to war in Iraq to get rid of Saddam's nukes are still appearing on CNN and Fox News.

It's not just media gurus who are providing what John Gruber likes to call claim chowder, many of our industry's trade journals are not exactly leading the charge towards a mobile and tablet publishing future. None of the leading ad trade magazines have yet to appear on the iPad – and you won't find the newspaper or magazine trade journals in Newsstand either.

Why is this? Part of the reason lies in the backward nature of the U.S. B2B industry, an industry dominated by PE firms that would rather cut than invest.* But even web based B2Bs like Poynter initially were negative towards the iPad and tablet publications, saying "publications with paid-content strategies will want to avoid Apple’s in-app payment system anyway." As it turns out, the opposite proved true and the vast majority of publishers learned that being inside Newsstand was the way to go (only financial publications have found any success staying outside the App Store).

But I also hear a sense of frustration in the voices of many writers. Apple and Google are moving on and the media world just can't seem to influence things. The New York Times Co. reported quarterly revenue of $515 million in Q2, less than the revenue Apple generated in two weeks last quarter. Publishing companies are just not powerful enough to shape the new digital platforms – they are followers in this space, not leaders.

The largest manufacturer of printing presses may be big players in the industry, but their customers, the publishers, still can influence them. The same is not true of either the web or makers of smartphones and tablets. No article in the Chicago Tribune is going to force Apple to make a change to its products it doesn't already want to make.

In a month Apple will hold its event for the new iPhone, other events with other product introductions will occur around the same time and into the holidays season. Watch for the mood of many tech and media websites to change, at least for a while.

In the end, those involved in the web, mobile and tablet space are in the right place. As I asked one reader who seemed more than a bit upset over all the negativity in the press, "where would you rather be, writing for a legacy print title? or making tablet magazines?" "Yeah," the reader admitted, "I feel sorry for those guys."

* It should be noted that a number of B2Bs have launched tablet editions. Northstar Publishing has three replica edition apps in the Newsstand, and other B2Bs like Macfadden, GIE Media and Cygnus are in the App Store, as well – often using apps created by their printer or other digital publishing vendors. Few B2Bs have moved on to creating their own natively designed tablet publications, but it is only a matter of time several digital publishing solutions companies have told me.