There are tons of articles already claiming that the iPad either will or will not “save” the “print industry.” That’s already largely a misnomer. The real distinguishing feature we’re talking about here is not whether the media is printed or not; it’s that at traditional media sources such as print magazines, newspapers, and some television broadcasts, people are paid to do what they do. Sometimes they do these things very well, and are at the tops of their respective games. The whole question becomes, do we universally decide to settle for “good enough,” as we seem to have done already, by just browsing enough sites on the web to form our own general idea of what’s going on, to find pretty much what we’re looking for? Or are we willing to pay for a “copy” (whether printed or viewed on screen) of, say, the FT, or Time, or GQ, or the Journal, to get more of a known quantity? If it’s the former, then our knowledge risks becoming a patchwork of truths, half-truths, wannabe truths, and outright misinformation (or even mal-information).
On the other hand, when we’re buying something, we tend to want to know who we’re buying it from.There are trust issues involved. We care about reputations, past experience, feeling of being on the same page with whatever institution we’re supporting with our purchase at the moment, etc. This trust doesn’t happen overnight; most of the organizations that have earned it have done so at great cost. It takes quality people and a quality infrastructure to deliver accountability in journalism. This does not come for free.
I like free stuff as much as the next person. But people who spend their time doing something that they care enough about to do well, need to have a stream of revenue. They need a roof over their heads. They need food to keep it all going. Most likely a few drinks too. They need music to heal the soul. They need a computer. They need to protect themselves against possible illness, accident, loss due to fire or theft or collision. They need to put kids through college. They need to send flowers to mom for Easter. They need a car, they need a guitar, they need a new washing machine, they need a cappuccino, they need what they need. Whatever it is, the same as you and me, they need to make money doing what they are doing. Where do the naysayers to paid content think that that money is going to come from? Do they think that everyone will just do this “on the side?” That that’s the only way to have “purity in journalism?”
Good people should be paid well. It’s silly to talk about a corporation being “greedy.” Corporations exist to make money. They need to make money for the people like you and me who invest in them. They make money so that they can pay their people well, which Apple (and Microsoft, as another example) tends to do. They need to make money over and above that, to finance the lean times, and to finance the incredible research and development costs a modern technology firm must face (whether computers or pharmaceuticals), and to cover the risks that we all expect companies to take, in introducing new products to an uncertain marketplace. The costs of failure can be staggering. They can (and have, countless times) put companies out of business.
And to those who would never buy an Apple product, well… you don’t know what you’re missing. If you care about fit and finish, form and function, all the parts working well together, a generally intuitive and human-compliant device, great design, great execution, then you would want an Apple product. I just played with an iPad at the Apple Store today, and I’ll say that I want one. I have a laptop sitting there on the table at home. When I need to do work, then yes, that’s what I must reach for. But when I’m sitting in front of the TV and I want to look something up, or multi-task with a couple of emails or reading a blog, I’ve been doing it on my iPhone. The iPad is bigger, and better at that. It’s the device I would reach for if I were not going to be generating a lot of content.
As we (meaning the members of pretty much any “modern” society today) are pretty voracious consumers of information and entertainment, it’s hard to imagine a scenario under which the iPad would not succeed. It’s just a matter of finding the right price point at which to sell it. Maybe they’ve hit it spot-on, or maybe they’ll have to adjust the price as they did with the iPhone. But the market is there. You’ll see. And once it gets locked in, it will change the world as much as the web changed it. It’s not going to be alone in the game for long, but it does establish a new paradigm, and it’s going to take enormous effort for anyone else to catch up.