Can the iPad Save Media Jobs?

Amongst all the hoopla about Apple's new iPad there was plenty of buzz that this oversized iPod Touch may help save newspapers and magazines. The New York Times even had a representative at the news conference where Apple unveiled the iPad. And when you go to Apple's website page for the iPad, the image in the screen is the front page of The Times.

The thinking goes that people will be drawn to an electronic version of a newspaper or magazine that can be easily read on a device like the iPad, which offers a larger screen and color pictures and graphics. Subscriptions could be sold through iTunes or other similar sites. Subscription rates would start heading back up and news organizations could save jobs or even start hiring more people, reversing a steady decline of jobs in the news and magazine industries over the past several years.

Not everyone is convinced.

Bob Papper, the chair of the journalism department at Hofstra University, has done a lot of research on hiring trends in the news industry and the future of the business.

"It's way too soon to tell," Papper says. "What the iPad is trying to do is create a market that doesn't exist. The iPhone was successful because it took what people already do and did it better. With the iPad, what they are trying to do is get you to do something that you don't do right now."

Then there is the question of whether people would be willing to pay to get content they have been used to getting free on the Internet. Papper points to some newspapers that have been starting to charge people for access to their Internet content. With few exceptions, so far it hasn't been going very well.

"You're also asking people to invest in a device beyond having to pay for the content," Papper points out. Right now when you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine, you just pay for the content. "How many people are also going to be willing to spend a few hundred dollars for a device to read that content?" Papper asks.

Carol Fletcher, a journalism professor at Hofstra who specializes in magazine writing, had a similar reaction. "When the iPad was unveiled, I was disappointed that there were no magazine apps," she said.

Even if there were, she is not sure that a magazine on a device like the iPad will succeed. "With magazines, its about psychographics, rather than demographics," she said. "There is a sense of completeness you get from a magazine that I'm not sure you can get from reading it on an iPad."

Papper also feels one of the critical turning points for electronic versions of reading material will be how easy it is to carry. "Foldable is a critical point," he says. "A woman may be able to carry an iPad in her purse, but how will a man carry it around?" While there are some prototype electronic devices that can be folded up, nothing matching the flexibility of a real newspaper or magazine is out there yet.

So, while there is a lot of talk about what electronic readers may hold for the future of the news industry, so far I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope that the iPad is going to save many jobs.

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