Greg's bite: can the iPad save journalism?
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Greg's bite: can the iPad save journalism?

By Greg Mills

Frankly, the blunt answer is yes, but not necessarily in its current business model -- and many publishers will not make the transition. I laughed when I saw where some well known national magazines launched an app and were charging US$5 an issue for an electronic version of a print magazine you can subscribe to for $8 per year -- for 12 full color magazines delivered to your door.  

People are not stupid;at least most of us are not that stupid. Perhaps as a novelty, one might spend $5 on one electronic magazine, just to see what it is like. A thriving business model requires a long term willingness for consumers to buy a product. Gouging will not work long term. 

Advantages of electronic publishing are cost related.  If that cost advantage is not passed on to the electronic consumer, the electronic magazine product will not sell. While the cost of publishing a paper magazine varies according to circulation, at least half the cost of an annual magazine subscription is typically spent on paper, printing and mailing.  

Advertising is the way most magazines gain half their income. Assuming advertising still works in digital magazines (we know it does), the cost of an annual subscription on line should still be less than half what an annual subscription costs for the paper and snail mail version.  It is not reasonable to consider that all the costs for physical printing and postage fees should become pure profit for on-line publishers. Electronic magazines should be sold for half to one third the annual paper subscription fee and they would get the volume they need to survive.

Newspapers and magazines are calculating what the impact of selling their publications on-line would make on their current paper business and are scared spit-less. The shake-out of paper publishers in the form of books, magazines and newspapers is only just beginning. To a large extent, the Internet and computers have reduce already paper usage considerably. Consider email, as a paper saving method compared to letters, spam as opposed to junk mail, on-line books as opposed to paperbacks, and on-line newspapers as opposed to your current new paper.    

It will become easier and easier to launch publications of all sorts on-line, and the competition will drive a lot of publishing firms out of business in the short term. Revolution is painful, but it forces adjustments that must be made. Subsidization by the government to preserve the existing paper publishing system will only exacerbate the situation.  

The consumer must come around to paying for content. That will be accomplished by giving us a break. If a paper version of a magazine was $8 a year, would I pay $3 per year to get an on-line version? Yes, I think I would pay the $3 under that scenario. Would I pay $60 for an on-line subscription? Get real. 

Beyond the "green" implications of not cutting down trees to print books, magazines and newspapers, the speed and ease of distribution is breathtaking when you go on-line. Paperless publishing will create more opportunities than it does casualties, in the long term. Many of those in power in the publishing world now are going to hold off going on-line as long as possible.  When the $5 per on line magazine model fails the existing paper publishers will try to declare the entire electronic publishing concept flawed. The issues are price and volume, not the efficacy of electronic publishing, per se. We see this playing out now, as publishers struggle with these issues

If I were to turn in a proverb creator, I would say, "Those who stand too long in the road of progress will be run over."  
  
(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)

 
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