Tomorrow Apple and News Corp will unveil The Daily and an iPhone/iPad subscription service for iOS to go along with it -- but will I subscribe? We've been discussing that for a few weeks now on the iPad Live! podcast and it's led to some of the most heated exchanges Chad, Georgia, and I have ever had on the show (and that's saying something.)
The issue is this -- news is already freely available on the web from both the largest profession news sites and the smallest one-person micro-blogger alike. Everything from full on features in the most traditional of old media fashion to real-time tweet streams of breaking news are there for the browsing.
Back when Apple launched iTunes, Steve Jobs famously said established recording labels didn't realize their competition wasn't other paid content -- their competition was free. Jobs said the way to compete with free-as-in-bootleg music was to offer fair pricing and incredible ease of use, and then people's consciences would lead them to make the right decision. With news, however, there are no P2P apps and sites to weed through, no chances of malware, no archives or transcoding to deal with. Clicking on an iTunes or App Store link won't be much easier than clicking on a web link. As for the conscience argument, where iTunes faced illegal bootlegged MP3 P2P systems the old media titans, The Daily, and iOS subscriptions face competition that's not only free but absolutely legal.
That leaves pricing, and thus far pricing of news and magazines on the App Store has varied dramatically in everything but its fairness. Media outlets have typically made their own dedicated apps and charged full cover price for each issue of their periodical when real world pulp-and-paper issues could be had for pennies on the dollar.
iTunes App Store subscriptions will likely change that, allowing for the same discounts typically given to the print editions -- if publishers choose to match them. They probably won't choose to match the web-based pricing of free, however, and they probably can't afford to.
It costs money to do professional news gathering and to put together a premium magazine or newspapers. It costs money to pay the reporters, editors, designers, and the rest of the staff. Even without printing and distribution costs there are developers and the 30% cut that will need to be giving to Apple to cover hosting, transactions, and fulfillment (getting the app and the issue off the servers and onto your device.) None of that is trivial.
Traditional newspapers and magazines charge a cover price, sell advertising, and aggregate and sell subscriber data to make their -- currently free falling -- profits. The latter, demographic and credit card information about the buyers, has reportedly been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in getting newspaper and magazine subscriptions onto iTunes. Apple didn't want to share the data or incur the privacy concerns and traditional media outlets absolutely wanted it and as opted-in and invisible as possible. (Because most users, if asked, probably wouldn't share.)
We'll see what Apple does for them when it comes to demographics. iAds or AdMob or other electronic ads, though nowhere near as profitable as paper ads will no doubt play a part. Since Craig's List has decimated classified ad revenue, that's off the table.
Georgia doesn't think there's very much The Daily or any iPad or iPhone subscription can do to woo her away from the free-as-in-web news she's gotten used to. I think that's likely to be the case for many users.
While some publishers may try going free like the web Rupert Murdock's News Corp certainly won't. The Wall Street Journal is behind a pay wall for a reason (the old joke is people will only pay for porn... and financial news) and if he had his druthers all his media properties would be likewise monetized. He reportedly sees the iPad as a second change, a way to give rebirth to internet news that isn't expected to be free-as-in-the-web.
So we're right back where we started. What can Apple and News Corp (and other publishers) do to get me -- and you -- to subscribe? To start paying for news again?
Fair pricing is obvious. The only other thing I can think of is compelling user experience. Amazon's Kindle lets you subscribe to newspapers and they're automagically downloaded, ready and waiting for you, early every morning. iPad has the potential to do the same and to run circles around the Kindle when it comes to UI.
Chad's hoping Apple releases a "NewsKit" framework alongside subscriptions so we get a standardized way to interact with subscription media. Given how zany and unusable some of the magazine UI have been to date, that's not a bad idea.
iPhone and iPad users already spend more time in apps than in browsers so if Apple can make it even easier than the web and more enjoyable than the web -- with better ads that never, not ever involve punching monkeys -- and News Corp can deliver pricing that's fair enough with content that's compelling enough...
...That just might do it.