And now, they're coming for your Social Security money - they want your fucking retirement money - they want it back - so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it. They'll get it all from you sooner or later. Because they own this fucking place. It's a Big Club: and you're not in it.
Robert Niles provides an absolutely essential bit of reading for anyone in the content-delivery world. Also known as “traditional” media (Yes, you. You are all in denial.), re: their efforts to invent new revenue models for their 19th century, dead-tree product line [emphasis added]:
You’re wasting your time. Please, stop. There is no new revenue model for journalism.
Done and done. In tweet length, no less. But no! Niles goes on to break it right on down into simple concepts for even the dimmest of bulbs. We are, after all, trying to get through to the likes of Rupert Murdoch here.
There are three ways - and only three ways - that publishers can make money from their content:
1. Direct purchases, such as subscriptions, copy sales and tickets 2. Advertising 3. Donations, including direct contributions and grant funding
Niles breaks down the first and potentially most important point using the basic economics of products you might see today in a bookstore, with emphasis on the relative price-points (e.g. papers are by far the cheapest thing in there and still aren’t selling):
Without a home-delivered hard copy, the commodity information available in most newspaper has no financial worth to most readers.
Because of this, no one is going to be able to craft a paid content model that elicits significant payment from more than a handful of readers for commodity news. And, despite what “proud parents” in the newsroom might think about their work, almost everything produced by all U.S. newspapers and broadcast newsrooms falls into that category.
Exactly. Why pay for “commodity information” that you can get on many phones? Your pay-walls won’t do a thing to stop that, either. Well, not a thing unless you count directing people to other sources and, worst-case, coercing them into learning how to use Pipes as a “thing.” I’d extend this overall concept of economic value even further and say: without a home-device delivered copy, tuned to individual specifications, most newspaper-derived information has no inherent financial worth (incidentally, this is also why demographics are slowly and inevitably killing the Tonight Show). News can and will be gotten from anywhere. Again, publishers, you are selling your editorial judgment, not the actual content. Yes, the content had better be good, but I want to know what is critical to know, and not just the various bits of arcana and other nonsense that have simply been automatically included in papers since the 1950s because “that’s the way we do things.” I want to be able to go deep, instantly, on a subject of interest to me while still reaping a quick-hitting, broad view of the state of affairs on my block, in my state, in my country, in my hemisphere, and in the world. You’re not going to be able to have your own employees covering all those things, but you damned well better know how to leverage all the various individual sources that do, compile them, maybe add some value or viewpoint, and then present the best of it to me. Every second of every day, whenever and wherever I want it, whether as bullet point, abstract, or 50,000 word exegesis.
All that said, the thing somebody out there in charge of a major paper has really got to realize is this:
it’s time to take a hard look at the other side of the ledger, and work to find a publishing and production model that allows a news publication to live within its current income means. That’s where the real change will happen in news publishing
Modern journalism in the form of newspapers is entirely an ad printing concern. Subscriptions just pay to bring the paper to the door, not to print that which is brought. Everything about the current model is designed to maximize the capability to create and print a big package of paper ads with some interstitial articles in there (yes, and a little sex, too). This needs to change. The first publisher with a national reach (in terms of name and reputation) to divest itself from the print albatross and concentrate fully (or very nearly so) on providing flexibly deep coverage in a RSS-style, fully user-customizable package will win. Big. People want excellent, well packaged information and are willing to pay for it (witness Cook’s Illustrated, the only successful thing going in the print world today and entirely predicated on a fee for service model). You, the broader news media, provide those people with mediocre information and, generally speaking, inconvenience because of your colossal tunnel vision relative to “how things have always been” and how you get back to that model as soon as possible and forever. I’ve got news for you: always is over.
Michael Kinsley wants to cut down newspaper articles by removing “legacy code,” overlong or overly florid lines that, while checking some traditional journalistic content box, don’t actually advance the story or inform the reader. Fair enough. Felix Salmon more or less agrees, again going on mostly about story length, noting that the Atlantic still does long stories in print (so wonderful for the train!) and but has shorter, web-only content online (along with those dreaded longer stories “reprinted” from the physical magazine). He points out what he sees as the crux of difference via a newspaper example:
…newspaper conventions have been built for physical newspapers, and can look silly in the age of the web — especially when the stories themselves appear, pretty much unchanged, on newspapers’ websites. It might make sense for the physical LA Times to run one big story about Afghanistan, but once that decision is made, no one is going to chop that one big story into three smaller ones for the website.
Right off the bat, he implicitly accepts an assumption that the web version needs to be shorter. If anything, the online edition should be longer, with a note in the physical version to go online for more depth about this or that tribal issue, interactive maps, whatever. That way, when you’re reading the Times on your 2025 model iTablet, everything is suddenly knit together in a way that allows you to expand or contract the amount of information you’re taking in based on your wants/needs of the moment.
I’m not exactly sure why this concept is so hard to understand: In the electronic era, there is no a priori limitation to the relative length or brevity of a story. It need not be artificially and randomly cut to 250 words to squeeze into a particular newshole or avoid a page-jump (think: USAToday), nor stretched to 15,000 words to buff up its apparent “importance.” Stories should be exactly as long as they need to be. I agree with Kinsley that all false equivalencies and labored prose that largely represents today’s idea of journalism needs to go, and soon. This means that if you can cover an important (but expected) House vote in 75 words by excising the fat, then by all means: do so. If providing useful, analytical context demands you go to 400,000 words on the same subject: then do so. THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE SELLING NOW. Editorial opinions (e.g. what is news?) are your only asset. Everyone working in media today should be entirely focused on maximizing the electronic product. Period. Forget about page impressions. Forget about the physical product (e.g. the monthly Atlantic or the daily NYT) and focus on making the best stories you can, whatever their length. Then repackage the very most important of those from your website (that naturally updates whenever it needs to, not on some arbitrary, print-based schedule) and you move it from there into the necessarily very scheduled, physical box that you still put out as best you can (hey, what do you know, that’s where your only physical constraints relative to length and layout are).
That neither Kinsley nor Salmon, both at one level or another tasked with rethinking how journalism works in the internet era mention this at all, and furthermore go so far as to make a case for ever more arbitrary cutting is, shall we say, depressing. That all of legacy media seems to be responding to this by utterly decerebrating their writing, then chopping it up into arbitrary “next page” chunks (even when the story is less than 50 words long), and then festooning the whole package with great gloopy wads of aggressively intrusive advertising that would make Vegas blush is, shall we say, demoralizing.
[The entirely theoretical Apple tablet] can be the computer that we buy our parents or grandparents without worrying that we’re signing ourselves up for years of painful tech support calls as they “lose” documents by saving them in the wrong folder, think they can’t save any more files because the desktop is full of icons, delete their browsers’ icons and tell us the internet is gone, keep five different antivirus products half-installed, and fill their RAM with programs they never Quit because they just close every window instead and don’t notice the tiny “running” dot in the Dock or know what it indicates.
He’s right though. Somewhere between the real points Marco makes, along with Siracusa’s take, and what Gruber talks about lies the truth of the Tablet. But I think the biggest thing to come out of the whole tablet introduction will ultimately be the beginning of real convergence between the various compartments of the Apple product line. Right now, Apple has the iPhoneOS and MacOS; presumably, these are about to be joined by TabletOS (which is likely sort of an iPhoneOS+). All of these, of course ride atop some version of OS X. With the introduction of the Tablet, I suspect we’ll begin to see how they allfit together. My prediction extends Gruber’s gist: not only will iPhone apps work as widgets on the Tablet, they’ll work as widgets on MacOS (under its next revision). And not on the Dashboard (though Apple could presumably choose to put them in there too), but on the desktop.
Doing this allows for a whole new class of applications. You’d still have essentially single-purpose iPhone apps: do one small thing and do it very well. Add to that more powerful, tablet and desktop aimed apps: more pixels, more computing power. Bundling this together as a unitary application bundle allows you to implant an iPhone app inside the desktop version; thus you can offer multi-platform sync. Sure, I can’t actually edit X-app documents on the phone, but I can view them easily and do these other, more minor edits on them. Bento offers a paleo-version of this setup today; you can create databases and various data-structures on the phone or the desktop and they sync data and the underlying table designs back and forth…certain features, though, only work on the desktop version. It makes much more sense going forward for Apple to abstract away the “I’m ready to sync” part of the current equation; you buy the app, it comes with an iPhone app, they are linked and automatically exchange info. Changes then sync next time you dock the phone or tablet or, presumably, automatically over the air if you so desire. All the fiddly bits with saving, file structure, and whatnot are totally abstracted away. THIS is why the tablet will matter. THIS is “what it does” that compels people to buy one.
What this means for the broader Macintosh platform as this more abstracted take on the file system gradually metastasizes up the product chain is left as an exercise for the student.
Gruber (and others) muse that Microsoft’s competition for Windows 7 customers is with its own Windows XP and with apathy. Most notably: not with Apple/Macintosh. Which is true. Apple has repeatedly stated through words and actions that they have no particular interest in the sub-$500 PC market. They barely have an interest in the sub-$1000 market. True, Apple has a few “hobby” projects in that space, but not a major business push.
But, and it’s a big but: the other end of an orthogonal relationship is the collision point. What happens when there’s sufficient processing power to do the vast majority of cheap-PC stuff on a phone or tablet? Microsoft’s continuing failure in this market is as obvious as Apple’s ongoing and growing success in it. True, you’re never going to word process on an iPhone, but a tablet: could be. Like many, I’ve already found an iPhone sufficient for huge swaths of what I formerly used laptops for while traveling. For many business travelers, it’s probably already there. A truly functional tablet could well eliminate most folks’ entire need for a laptop; certainly, the net-book industry would close almost overnight.
So it seems likely then that Microsoft (and the cheap PC market) will be utterly decimated when Apple (or somebody else) solves the tablet market. Think it through: a wildly successful tablet (or an iPhone type device with far greater capabilities that that of today) would obviate the need for a “real” laptop, would also neuter the crap experience of the cheap PC; who would want a table-bound POS when you could have a doodad in your lap that does everything said POS does and more, only with real usability and ease. Such a development would leave only the high-end market for people that need serious computing power or some other fairly specific, high-end task like a giant monitor. Microsoft is in precisely none of those spaces. Apple is in all of them, and not just in: they’re dominating and defining them in a way that makes follow-on innovation seem more like poor imitation, and gaining a foothold is that much more difficult. Curious that the only one they’re not in is the one they publicly disregard while (quietly) planning to destroy… almost like there’s a plan afoot.
Apple has been working on such a Swiss Army knife tablet since at least 2003, according to several former employees. One prototype, developed in 2003, used PowerPC microchips made by I.B.M., which were so power-hungry that they quickly drained the battery.
“It couldn’t be built. The battery life wasn’t long enough, the graphics performance was not enough to do anything and the components themselves cost more than $500,” said Joshua A. Strickland, a former Apple engineer whose name is on several of the company’s patents for multitouch technology.
Another former Apple executive who was there at the time said the tablets kept getting shelved at Apple because Mr. Jobs, whose incisive critiques are often memorable, asked, in essence, what they were good for besides surfing the Web in the bathroom.
Oh god I hope he really said that.
Me too, though I wonder what in the hell else he thinks it needs to do. Oh, right: tip-calculation, the hobgoblin of the lesser platforms since the dawn of mediocre service.
Steve Jobs all but introduces the upcoming Apple Tablet (hopefully the upcoming Macintosh tablet, but time will tell) in these quotes from an interview with David Pogue of the NYT:
There are some things that I’m focusing a lot of attention on right now—to polish
We have some really good stuff coming up.
Keep in mind, Jobs has previously stated that he considers most tablet-type computers to be, uh, shit. Additionally, we know that a number of pre-iPhones (for lack of a better term) died on the vine because one SPJ deemed them unworthy (he’s occasionally referred to these as their “best product decisions” or some similar construction: better to shitcan something bad than put it out there prematurely and sully the brand. Witness the Newton.
Likewise, he presages that this doodad will be far more than a reader:
I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices [like the Kindle], and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing,” he said. “But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.
Even if the tablet runs the iPhone OS, it will be a far more capable everything than Kindle is a reader. If it runs garden-variety Mac OS X, it will likely outperform many (or most) netbooks in terms of absolute utility. How could it not? People already get pretty good results hacking the Mac OS onto these devices. An optimized version, from Apple, would dominate the space assuming it was priced within, say, $100 of its most direct competitors (honestly, it’s hard to figure out what those are in a field pretty well suffused with crap).