INSIDE MOBILE: Why Tablet Publishing Kills the Daily Newspaper

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2010-09-15

INSIDE MOBILE: Why Tablet Publishing Kills the Daily Newspaper

First, Craigslist literally destroyed classified ads by offering free, local classified ads in most major cities around the world. Wham! Overnight, the lucrative classified advertising departments of most newspapers were put out of business. "Check Craigslist" has become a thread of basic, accepted behavior when looking to find something most typically found in classified ads.

Then, basic distribution and advertising in daily newspapers came under assault with free Websites that offered much less expensive (lower revenue) online advertising. But newspapers kept producing their print editions since they still generated a lot of revenue.

Now, with the iPad just a few months old and an onslaught of tablets hitting the market in the next six months, you'd expect that at least one major newspaper publisher would likely reorganize itself to adapt to the new world of digital publishing on tablets. In fact, two have just made such an announcement.

On Friday, Aug. 27, 2010, USA TODAY announced it was reorganizing to focus on digital publishing-primarily on tablets-and "defocus" on print. And on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, the New York Times announced that they "will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD." These are just the first of a whole series of similar announcements that I expect we'll see over the next couple of years.

Make no mistake here: digital publishing, primarily through tablets, is going to sweep through the entire publishing industry. There's no going back as in, "Oh, we tried digital publishing on tablets and it didn't work out. We're going back into print publishing. It was all just a fad." That is never going to happen.

I actually like reading a newspaper. It's good to hold it in your hand and flip from page to page. There's a tactile feedback, and your eyes can view material that is often 20 inches high and 30 inches wide. You can snack on one headline after another and then deep dive on stuff that you find interesting. I keep thinking, "Nah, they'll never stop producing newspapers." But now, with the USA TODAY announcement, I think, during our lifetimes, we'll be seeing the death of an industry that is hundreds of years old.

Digital Tablet Publishing: Where the Readers Are

Digital tablet publishing: where the readers are

The reason that publishers are migrating to digital tablet publishing is simple: it's where the readers are. And readers enable publishers to make money. Many young people are going to grow up with one or more tablets in their family. Soon, everyone will have a tablet-from young kids learning to read through adults. Yes, print-primarily in the form of specialty magazines-will still be around for quite a while; however, newspapers likely will simply go digital.

There are a number of advantages to newspapers publishing on tablets. First, it's cheaper. It's also immediate, so that if a breaking story develops, publishers can update it on your tablet almost immediately. Tablets enable integration of audio and video. Tablets can more easily be searched and you can browse by sections more quickly than by using the paper. Finally, you don't have to wash the ink off your hands when you're done reading a tablet.

I have to hand it to USA TODAY for making such a bold move. Their reader application for the iPad is excellent and very intuitive (better than the ones from the Wall Street Journal or New York Times in my opinion). I often enjoyed getting a print copy of USA TODAY under the door at most Marriott Hotels I visited over the years, but then still couldn't read it except when online. The iPad experience is much better than via the Web-much more like reading an actual paper.

While the New York Times announcement doesn't mention a specific date, I think it's likely within five years. Newspapers are valuable. But in a growing mobile and digital world, the newspaper is going to morph and become reborn on digital tablets, with integrated ads and multimedia.

Long live the tablet-based newspaper!

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.

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