Think that The Daily’s death means an end to “tablet journalism”? Going by a new offer from The Times of London, Rupert Murdoch clearly doesn’t think so.
But first, we all have to stop saying “tablet journalism.” The tablet is a medium through which content can be delivered to your brains. Some publications will continue to be “tablet first,” and will figure out a way to make it work. For most publishers, however, the tablet will merely serve as another excellent delivery mechanism for their journalism. In that sense, whatever you might think of as “tablet journalism” is far from dead. Actually, it’s just beginning.
The Times of London values the tablet so much that it is offering new subscribers a 32GB Nexus 7 tablet for just £50 ($80). In the UK, Google’s Nexus 7 retails for £199 ($320). Subscriptions to The Times aren’t cheap, mind – you’ll have to fork out £4 ($6.40) a week for the privilege of getting the dead-tree news dropped on your doorstep. The newspaper has also taken the liberty of providing a step-by-step Nexus 7 user guide for tablet newbies.
The Times, of course, is owned by Murdoch’s News Corp – just like The Daily. If Murdoch thinks the tablet has no value for news, he has a funny way of showing it.
The newspaper’s offer is a less-extreme version of the “give away the razors, make money on the blades” strategy so beloved by Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Actually, you could argue that newspapers have been using a similar approach throughout the course of their history, subsidizing the cost of the delivery mechanism in order to put their product in front of as many people as possible.
It’s not cheap to subsidize the cost of a Nexus 7 (although there’s a good chance Google gave the newspaper a sweet deal), but it’s also not cheap to print news in ink on paper every night and then have it all shipped to warehouses, sorted into piles, then delivered by trucks and by foot to every subscriber’s doorstep. What’s most important to The Times, however, is that it stays with readers as they make the shift from paper to the Web and, especially, to the tablet, where they are proving more than willing to read news and to read longer stories.
Tablets, according to Pew Research, provide newspapers with an opportunity to engage serious readers for longer, and to present them with rich-media advertising that doesn’t play so well on smartphones or on the Web.
We’re in the early days of tablet reading – remember, the first iPad went on sale just two years ago – but newspapers like The Times are betting a good part of their futures on the media-friendly devices. That trend is true despite the distraction of what happened to The Daily, which had its own problems independent of the medium, namely in trying to scale to a 120-person media operation in one ambitious leap.
When you keep the wider picture of shifting reader habits in mind, the subsidized-tablets approach taken by The Times seems much less of a costly marketing tactic and much more of a necessary business endeavor. Expect to see other newspapers soon make similar moves. If it can help the newspaper attract more subscriptions, then that’s great for The Times. But what’s more important is the tablet delivers the eyeballs the newspaper’s advertisers crave.