Praying to Steve Jobs Will the iPad Save the Publishing Industry?

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Part 2: Confronting the 'Apple Problem'


This sounds perfectly plausible. On the other hand, says FAZ co-publisher Frank Schirrmacher, this is precisely where an error in reasoning could lie. He is convinced that given the growing multimedia onslaught, "narrowing information down is in fact the message of the iPad," at least for text journalism.

For Schirrmacher, the desired limitation consists, for example, in the iPad version of a daily newspaper appearing only once a day. As a result, the information will endure for 24 hours, unlike the constantly updated journalism of the Internet. "The Internet was the river, and now we have the island," says Schirrmacher. This, he believes, constitutes an advantage for those who provide background and analysis.

The iPad is a flat mini-computer that consists essentially of a touch screen and nothing else. The device is portable and can be used anywhere, and as such represents the ultimate disengagement of Internet access from the physical desk. It is meant to be as transportable as a magazine and offer the same multimedia capabilities as a laptop.

It is an extremely seductive device. And it tempts us to rely excessively on a reading device when answering the question of what journalism will look like in the future. Should journalism suddenly turn into a video game, just because the iPad lends itself to such applications?

Money in the Bank

At the moment, everyone sees the miracle device as being perfect for the kind of journalism they produce. Schirrmacher seeks and finds a platform for depth and relaxation. A magazine like Stern praises the brilliance of large photos. Designer Kircher emphasizes the visual opulence. And publishing executives are more apt to focus on the features that are most likely to translate into money in the bank.

Media conglomerate Springer plans to achieve an innovative breakthrough with a magazine designed specifically for the iPad. The publication, which will be titled The Iconist, will be a lifestyle magazine that will include the first animated advertisements and will cost between €3 and €6.

Carsten Osius, head of the digital subsidiary of the Bauer publishing company, has noticed a sort of iPad bubble and scaremongering in German publishing houses. "Every week, we receive offers from several companies to program all kinds of apps for us, at completely inflated prices," he says. Osius is restrained when it comes to all the fuss over the device. Burda executive Hegge is almost taking a matter-of-fact approach, and says: "We are not driven by euphoria."

And then there is also the Apple problem. The global corporation doesn't just make the mini-computer. It also controls the content being played on the iPad through apps. It distributes them, collects a portion of the profits from their sale and, when it sees fit, also censors the content on occasion. Schirrmacher, for example, is surprised at how little resistance there has been so far to Apple's practices. "If printing press manufacturers had suddenly said, in 1985, we decide what you can print, we would simply have laughed."

It would seem, in fact, that hardly any other publishing executive is likely to subscribe to Döpfner's suggestion to thank Steve Jobs every day. On the contrary, they are also searching for alternatives to the iPad.

Quickly Growing Market

"We want to have a presence on as many platforms as possible and not commit ourselves to Apple," says Christian Hasselbring, managing director of stern.de. His parent company, Gruner + Jahr, is currently working on a kiosk platform that would be available to multiple publishers. Such a platform, like a bookstore at a train station, would include a lineup of as many digital magazines as possible. However, the project has been slow in getting off the ground. There are reservations, and many major publishing houses are hesitant to come on board, mainly for financial reasons. "Based on the current concept, the distribution of profits is completely unattractive for the individual partner," says an executive at Springer. Still, a shop that would enable users to buy digital magazines for all types of devices will likely come sooner or later.

The market for reading devices will grow quickly. The WeTab, developed by the Berlin-based company Neofonie, is expected to hit the market in late summer, Aldi supplier Medion apparently has a device in the works, and Google also wants a piece of the market.

Neofonie CEO Helmut Hoffer von Ankershoffen, known as "anchor of hope" in the hallways of Gruner + Jahr, sees his WeTab as a sort of survival concept for publishers. Publishing houses are also expected to help sell the devices, and in return they will be given prominent placement of their products on the WeTab and receive a share of sales revenues. But when the arrangement is examined more closely, one is left with more questions than answers. So far, Ankershoffen has not even managed to present the public with a fully functional device.

Ironically, a comic book publisher in the United States is demonstrating the iPad's potential to create a new media experience. Marvel Comics, which is owned by Disney, has developed a sensational application that actually makes the experience of reading a comic book more appealing on the iPad than on paper. The comic panels are presented as a sort of animated slideshow, which makes the stories more vivid and intense.

Comic book fans have apparently expressed so much enthusiasm in Internet blogs that many are buying an iPad just to be able to use the Marvel app.

Journalism on the iPad, however, still has a long way to go.

Editor's note: This article went to press in the print German edition of DER SPIEGEL on May 19. Shortly after, USA Today reported there had been 400,000 downloads of its iPad app.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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