January 22, 2010 Last Updated 6:41 pm

The Mac Observer: “Can the Publishing Industry Save Itself From Apple Saving the Publishing Industry?

Bryan Chaffin, executive vice president of The Mac Observer, and the writer of The Back Page feature, wrote a great piece today about the Apple tablet and the publishing industry. You should read the whole piece, it is both funny and on target.

Here is a good sized excerpt, reproduced with permission of the author:

. . .  Rumor has it that Apple CEO Steve Jobs wants to save the newspaper and magazine the same way Apple saved the labels (and in the process make several new fortunes selling the devices that will be part of the saving formula).

I buy into that particular rumor for two reasons. The first is that I think Mr. Jobs has the kind of hubris (and track record) to think he can be that savior, and the second is that newspapers need saving.

Unlike the record labels, newspapers don’t appear to be run by idiots, but they do need help adjusting to the changes the Internet has wrought on their business models. From Craigslist to access-everywhere-to-everything, to the lower barrier to entry for new media to enter the market, newspapers have faced dramatically decreasing revenues.

And unlike the record labels, newspapers are worth saving. An informed democracy needs to be informed to stay a democracy, and newspapers provide a critical role in doing the informing. From local reporting to dedicated editors and fact checkers that provide vital oversight over what gets published, we need local and national papers.

And they need to figure out how to make money online. The realities of online advertising and sundry other factors have resulted in free online content not paying for itself. Subscription models have also mostly failed, and Amazon was brazenly performing highway robbery before our very eyes by charging 65% for delivering newspaper subscriptions to Kindle devices . . .

Chaffin goes on to talk about the iTunes model and how a certain writer at New York magazine warns that the publishing industry should be leery of Apple lest the publishing business gets taken for a ride just as the music industry has — ignoring the millions of dollars the industry has to thank Apple for.  (I almost posted a comment about that story myself, finding the column extremely silly. Luckily, Chaffin did the work for me — and probably better than I could).

Chaffin ends by writing:

I think that any industry in the kind of straights the publishing industry finds itself in should count its lucky stars if iTunes distribution could become big enough and important enough to matter one way or another. If newspapers on a tablet through iTunes don’t become a raging success, little has changed. If it takes off, however, newspapers will have a significant new revenue stream that could allow them to survive, or even thrive.

And if they could do it on their own — if they could reverse their fortunes through their own efforts — Apple wouldn’t have anything to save them from.

I have one thing to add: at a Steve Jobs keynote (this one won’t really be a keynote, just a product introduction) the excitement is all about what Apple’s main man has up his sleeve. His famous refrain “and one more thing” is the clue that something interesting is about to be introduced. What is of importance, of course, is the device itself: a new notebook that is thinner and lighter, a desktop that is faster, a music player that is smaller and better designed.

This time, however, when the device is unveiled I will wait until it is powered up and will want to see what it does — will Jobs show us Wired in a new format? Will we see the New York Times in a way we’ve never seen it before? Will the Sports Illustrated demo video that we’ve all seen come to life? (Look for tablet demo videos under Favorites on the TNM YouTube Channel.) Will the rumored conversations with textbook publisher McGraw-Hill yield something we can see on Wednesday?

I’m sure the device will the sleek and beautifully designed — that’s a given. The OS and the features are all important, of course. But the publishing industry needs something, it needs tablet envy. It needs publishers and editors to say “can’t our publication be on that thing?”. We need advertising reps to jump up and say “hey, if you put our magazine on that tablet I know I can sell it.”

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