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Chapter 16 The Future of Mass Media
The Tablet Computer: A New Digital Age?
Does the tablet computer represent the future of media? Tech-savvy consumers certainly seem to think so—on the day Apple’s much-hyped iPad hit the market in April 2010, the company sold more than 300,000 devices. Described as “Goldilocks” gadgets—not too big, not too small—tablet computers are creating what former Apple CEO Steve Jobs calls a “third segment” of computing between handheld phones and laptop computers.Bobbie Johnson and Charles Arthur, “Apple iPad: The Wait Is Over—But Is It the Future of Technology or Oversized Phone?” Guardian (London), January 27, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/27/apple-ipad-tablet-computer-kindle. The iPad, which sports a 9.7-inch color LED touch screen, enables consumers to surf the web, play games, email, and use many of the same applications available on the company’s vastly popular smartphone, the iPhone. Its primary function upon release however, was to corner the e-book market, putting it in competition with Amazon.com’s black-and-white Kindle e-reader. Signing deals with five major publishers—HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette—Apple created a program called iBooks that enables customers to download e-books directly onto the iPad via the digital media application iTunes. The print media industry—which was unable to capitalize on the benefits of new media during the Internet age of free print and video content on the web, and saw its profits disintegrate as a result—is hopeful that tablet computers such as the iPad will provide some form of digital salvation. John Makinson, chairman of the Penguin Group, said the iPad would help “attract millions of new readers to the world’s best books.”Bobbie Johnson and Charles Arthur, “Apple iPad: The Wait Is Over—But Is It the Future of Technology or Oversized Phone?” Guardian (London), January 27, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/27/apple-ipad-tablet-computer-kindle. More importantly for the future of traditional media, the iPad may provide a way for publishers to generate a profit from these new readers. Electronic publishers who sell their products through iBooks receive a 70 percent share of any revenues, and are able to set their prices higher than Amazon’s, a relief for publishers worried that e-books might undercut their sales.
The success of Apple’s iPhone, which is expected to generate an estimated $1.4 billion in 2010 from its App Store alone, may provide some indication of how well the iPad is likely to perform in the near future. Trip Hawkins, a founder of interactive entertainment software company Electronic Arts, commented, “The iPhone was a harbinger. When you have a device that is this convenient and fun for consumers to use, you can get a lot more people interested in paying for and engaging with the content. Big media companies should be all over this like a cheap suit.”Brad Stone and Stephanie Clifford, “With Apple Tablet, Print Media Hope for a Payday,” New York Times, January 25, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/technology/26apple.html. And they are. Several major newspapers and magazine companies have signed up with Apple’s latest device, and their content is available via iPad applications. Some, such as The New York Times and USA Today, are initially offering their apps for free with a paid app coming down the line, while others, such as The Wall Street Journal and Time, are available for a download fee. Thomas J. Wallace, editorial director of Condé Nast, said, “2010 is going to be the year of the tablet, and we feel we are in a very good position for it.”Brad Stone and Stephanie Clifford, “With Apple Tablet, Print Media Hope for a Payday,” New York Times, January 25, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/technology/26apple.html. The publishing company launched its first app for GQ, a men’s magazine, at a cost of $2.99 in April 2010. To avoid losing paying customers, media companies are adjusting part of their digital strategy so that consumers are no longer able to access the same content for free on the web.
Despite initial concerns that the iPad might prove to be an unnecessary gadget, performing functions that can be performed on other devices, its sales have so far surpassed all expectations. As of 2010, the original iPad sales had topped more than 15,000,000 units in the first 9 months, outpacing sales of Mac laptops. The cheaper price and variety of functions made it a hit with consumers. With magazine and newspaper publishers able to provide a more interactive experience on the iPad through video, graphics, and creative design layouts, analysts are predicting the iPad will revolutionize the publishing industry the way the iPod and the iPhone shook up the digital music and smartphone industries, respectively. Whether the iPad will remain at the forefront of the digital revolution in the years to come remains to be seen, but it has the potential to eventually become an all-in-one television, newspaper, and bookshelf.