iPad’s Achilles Heel: Moving Media Companies to the Current Century


It’s something that the computer geeks don’t get. It’s part of why Microsoft’s efforts to promote Tablet PCs for the past ten years has completely failed. It’s not about the hardware or the feature list. It’s about the books, magazines, newspapers, and movies I can connect to and my access to my stuff stored on the cloud. In typical Apple fashion they are at least a good five to ten years ahead of the curve and this is resulting in more than a few disconnects. The geeks are thinking GBs storage, USB ports and processor speeds and old media are thinking pay-walls and DRM. And both of them are so dead wrong, it’s embarrassing.

On the media end I should be able able to click on any book and get an electronic or audio version for less than the price of going to my local Borders for a dead tree version. But the publishers have got their heads so far up their asses that they want to charge me a hard cover price or more for a version that doesn’t cost them one physical cent to produce or ship. They would rather sell 1,000 copies for $25 than 1,000,000 copies for $5. Or worse, there’s no e-version available because they can’t figure out how to make a digital version (though I remember a Harry Potter fan copying a 500 page book in less time than it took for the dead tree version to make it to his country).

Here’s the deal, we want to pay for the story, movie, song. The career of Jonathan Coulton should be proof of this. What should also be clear is that we’re not interested in paying for all of the middle managers and flunkies who don’t add one wit to the product. Yes it’s a business, and there are lots of important folks who make it happen But we’re not going to pay $25 for a book when we know that the pricing structure was built around creating a physical book that isn’t getting created. And the scarcity model, where only so many books/song/videos can be made every year, isn’t going to work in the era of almost infinite artists freely sharing their works on the Internet (remember Jonathan Coulton?).

Old newspaper by ShironekoEuro (some rights reserved)
Old newspaper by ShironekoEuro (some rights reserved)

So, getting back to the iPad, I was really hoping on the first day to subscribe to my local papers and national voices from the first day and buy any book like Michener’s The Source from the 1970s or even older tomes like The Idea of the Holy. Over the past month the only books I’ve bought were from the amazon app because the ones I wanted weren’t available on the Apple iBook app and I haven’t found a single newspaper to subscribe to that was any better than what I can get on an RSS reader. Fail. But in the last couple of days I’ve been encouraged by the iPad version of National Geographic (offered by Zinio) that not only mimics the magazine format but also offers unpublished photos and videos not available in the dead tree version.

My thing is that technology is so expensive, so, except for the geeks, it’s got to deliver something more than what can be had without the device. And that extra stuff has got to be the music, books, magazines, newspapers, media that is cheap, instantly available and brings something “more” than the analog versions. The Achilles heel is whether the media companies can wrap their heads around the game changing nature of this new model. If Apple loses the tablet war it’ll be because the public lost interest while the media companies fiddle with their business model and fail to deliver. jbb