Will e-Readers and Tablets Like the iPad Revolutionize Content Consumption?

Posted on January 29, 2010 by 15 Comments

Over the past few weeks (especially yesterday), there has been a lot of talk in journalism circles about new portable devices changing the way people don’t pay for consume  media content. While there is a lot to be excited about for content creators, these devices aren’t necessarily going to make people want to pay for content.

Journalism institutions and news media businesses need to be concerned about creating the kind of high-quality, engaging, shareable content that matters in today’s world, not how they can squeeze more money out of old-format content.

Time Inc. seems to understand this. A while back, the company released an awesome conceptual video of its content modified for a touch-screen tablet experience.

YouTube Preview Image

Sports Illustrated (and likely many other Time publications) know that money can be made in offering readers an excellent overall content experience.

Sports Illustrated always has great content, but this concept video shows that SI can bring that content to life on a tablet-like device in ways that a normal browser can’t. On a good e-reader or tablet, content jumps off the screen in the form of photo galleries, embedded video and audio, sharing options, and ways to engage with other readers. Plus, it just feels natural to hold the content in your hands and interact with it using your fingers — like a book or magazine.

Getting people to use an excellent content experience isn’t the hard part; getting people to pay for the experience is the hard part. Content creators have to meet a few requirements to get anyone to pay:

  • You must provide top-notch, awesome content that nobody else has. And you have to provide it in a way that blows minds.
  • You must make it inexpensive and so easy to pay that people don’t even think about it (like buying iPhone apps).
  • You must make content shareable. You’re selling the experience, not the content. When paying customers share your content, think of it as free word-of-mouth marketing, not stealing.

Apple iPadMany musicians have learned that you’ll never stop people from freely sharing songs. People pass things along, and not everyone is paying for the content. The best way to capitalize on the popularity is to charge people for a superior experience, like a live show or private appearance.

Perhaps news organizations can do something similar by selling access to great content experiences and private chat sessions with content creators and newsmakers.

This approach alone likely won’t bring in enough revenue to sustain a news operation, but along with advertising and other creative revenue models, it can help.

What do you think? Can e-readers and tablets change the way content is experienced?

Image by mattbuchanan

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15 Comments

Abe Saeed on January 29, 2010

From a functionality standpoint I cannot get on board with this type of product. It definitely has the wow factor and opens the door for the creation of amazing content.

In the distant future I could see these types of products changing the way we view content. But as you mentioned before this content comes at a high cost to both the consumer and the developers and is not sustainable.

I believe what will hold these products back; as crude as it may sound, at the end of the day these products are one-trick pony, with not a lot of realistic business relevance. Call me demanding but I’m more interested in a product that can do everything. Make phone calls, video conference, run programs like Photoshop.

Until these products become more versatile, only then will the way we consume content make a complete shift.

Micheal Foley on January 29, 2010

Thanks for commenting, Abe.

The reality is that no single device is good for all situations.

There is a device that does everything — a desktop (or powerful laptop) computer. But the problem is that it’s not the right device for every situation because you can’t just take it anywhere.

There’s a device you can take anywhere — a smartphone. But the problem is that it’s not a device that can do everything and the small screen provides a limited experience.

A lot of people can get by with just these two devices, but a media reading/viewing device is something I would use a lot. I’m not going to curl up on the couch with my laptop to read blogs or watch YouTube videos.

And consuming this kind of content on my smartphone isn’t optimal either. A media-consumption tablet device is something I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while.

If I want to take a make a call or take a photo, my smartphone is always in my pocket. If I want to use resource-intensive programs like Photoshop or FinalCut, I’ll open up my laptop.

But if I just want to read stuff or watch a video, I’d love to grab a tablet or e-reader.

Abe Saeed on January 29, 2010

I see your point. But don’t we already take our laptops everywhere? Don’t you already sit on your couch and casually read/tweet/watch videos? I do. Personally I don’t need a second device that does things I can already do.

I think this comes down to an each-his-own type thing and how individuals decide to use the device.

To me, this a redundant device. To someone else this is mind-blowing technology.

Maybe I will be proven otherwise down the road and eat my words, but for now that’s my stance.

Micheal Foley on January 29, 2010

I see your points too, but I’m not the kind of guy who curls up with a laptop, or reads it in a waiting room or a bus. I don’t even like taking it to meetings. For me, a laptop is a portable device, not a mobile device. Does that even make sense?

But, again. I see your points and I understand that not everyone uses these products the same way.

Geekgiant on January 29, 2010

The problem with this premise is that it’s natively contradictory. You even say it ” high-quality, engaging, shareable content” that the hope is that people will pay for it. Is it still sharable if I and the receiving party have to pay for it? Or are you advocating a new kind of DRM?

I do agree that being able to interact with the content is essential for the future on news consumption. The main reason consumers of news have latched on to online content distribution is because of the natural interactivity of it. Being able to engage the author or other readers is great.

Micheal Foley on January 29, 2010

Thanks for the comment Geekgiant!

I’m saying you pay for the experience and the content is still free somewhere. Imagine a free iTunes version of a movie, but paying for the movie theater experience.

Of course, there is no indication that this type of model would work, but I’m in favor of experimenting with it. If you can’t sell your content, you have to sell something…

Matt Wolfe on January 29, 2010

In the days since its announcement, I’ve thought a lot about this device, and functions like these are why the device disappoints. The potential is there for a product that will revolutionize the way we live our lives. We’re used to devices that can do everything at once. My cell phone is also an internet device, a GPS, camera, mp3 player – and so much more. My laptop is in my lap right now, as I sit in a chair in my living room. The XBox 360 that sits below my 50 inch plasma has Netflix, Facebook and Twitter built in, the Wii has a web browser. I stream music and movies wirelessly from multiple computers to by television. My entire life is shaped by technology, which is why I hate the iPad, not so much for what it is, but for what it isn’t.

I see how the web can change when you show examples like you have posted, but I want more. I consume enough, I want to create. The social networking/media movement proves that alone. We, as a society, are tired of consuming – we want to interact. Just look at reality shows, we want to be relevant.

I’ve been using Apple computers almost exclusively for the past 14 years. I’m in love with what this company allows me to do, and I wish others get the chance to experience the magic of their company’s products. I just don’t think this is the way to do it. There are simple additions that would have taken this from ‘meh’ to ‘gottahaveit’, and I think they’ve already been discussed at length, but examples like what you show in this post demonstrate how touchscreen can change how we create content, just as much as consume it. This one just doesn’t do that.

Were my expectations set too high? Maybe. Though, I think they were fueled by Apple’s own statements. Not to be too harsh, but the words ‘better than a laptop, better than a smartphone’ were mentioned by Steve Jobs in the presentation. What this is is simply better than an e-reader.

Of course, I realize that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I keep thinking of my aunt and uncle. They’re a couple in their late 40s who aren’t scared of technology, but they don’t really embrace it the same way I do. To check email, the walk down the hall to the office. They don’t have a gaming console, and don’t use smartphones. I also know they’re not alone. There’s a whole segment of the population who lives this same way, and they call guys like me when their printer can’t get set up or they want to buy a wireless router. This is made for those people, but it was pitched to us.

The reality is that many of us don’t need it, we already have a house full of devices that do all of these tasks better. We want one like this that allows us to push the boundaries of computing. I keep thinking back to when they demonstrated the use of spreadsheets and said that there’s so much you can do with this than with a keyboard and mouse and kept getting angry because they’re missing the point. I edit video – can you imagine how much this would change the way I assemble a video? Using my hands to cut and arrange, selecting areas to color correct. The potential here is amazing, and that’s why I’m let down. I crave the joy my aunt and uncle will have when they use the iPad for the first time. I just want to feel the magic Apple kept referring to.

Micheal Foley on January 29, 2010

Hey Matt; thanks for commenting.

“better than an e-reader” is exactly what I expected and what I wanted.

But, even so, this post was more about the content that can be created for tablet and e-Reader devices — not specifically the iPad.

I’m sure other companies will riff off of what Apple has started and Apple will be forced to up its game by the competition.

I can’t wait to see all the cool content apps that will be coming because of this new device category.

CurmudgIan on January 29, 2010

Sigh…. another device? BOOO!! I’m tired of devices and channels and so many different kinds of content vieing for my limited attention span. I’ve got too much going on already. Don’t make me remember more passwords, keep track of more accounts, take something else out of my bag at the airport – on and on. It’s not easier – it’s more frustrating. Am I supposed to believe that somehow browsing content on an iPad with the same 3G network as my iPhone is going to somehow magically be better? Yeah, right. Granted, when I switched from Windows Mobile to the iPhone, I felt like I had found the holy grail of mobile web browsing – but now, less than 18 mos. later, it’s already too slow and cumbersome – I still go to the laptop with my cable access. Think about all of this content being delivered in all these cool ways – what’s it going to do to the infrastructure? Make it even SLOWER. Until there’s enough bandwidth to support it to make the experience pleasurable it’s not going to matter what the device is or how cool the content is if it can’t be delivered in a seemless, hassle-free way. I’ll wait patiently.

Matt Wolfe on January 29, 2010

You’re right – I got a little carried away, but what I was trying to say that they’re getting it wrong. What good is making devices that can display this kind of content if its being made for the people who don’t seek shiny new technology? I was referencing the iPad because as much as it’s bringing new ways to display content, its leaving those of us that create it in the cold. I can’t record and edit a video response to a great story I just read, I can’t submit photos of the event I’m reading about without the adapter. I do see content like this and drool, but get angry that it’s one-sided, and that’s not what 21st century content is about.

Micheal Foley on January 29, 2010

Matt: It’s great that you’re a content creator, and the laptop is an optimal device for you. But (like it or not) many people are just content consumers. We’ll see if a tablet device appeals to them.

Matt Wolfe on January 29, 2010

Are they really? Take a look at Youtube (on a non-iPad ;(), or Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, 12seconds, Qik – the world is filled with content creators now, whether they call themselves that or not. The downside to this new product line is that they make it necessary to own several devices to be that kind of user. This just pushes apart those two tasks, when in reality the lines between mainstream media and community information distribution are just starting to blur.

People didn’t stop reading newspapers because they just don’t care about news anymore – they just absorb it differently now – and in many cases, interact with it. Just look at CNN.com’s iReporters for an example of that. I just feel like these devices enable a step backwards in the evolution of information distribution by removing, or at least making it more difficult in some ways, the ability to engage in the behavior they can with current devices.

Micheal Foley on January 29, 2010

I understand what you’re saying, Matt, but there are many more user types than just the “creator.”

Check out this slideshow of the 10 Social Media Personas:
http://www.slideshare.net/aslabinck/10-personas-to-help-you-understand-the-behaviour-and-motives-of-the-social-media-users

uberVU - social comments on January 30, 2010

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Stefan Arnold on January 30, 2010

I think tablets (let’s leave out e-readers, they are already dying) will expand people’s usage of computers.

Like Matt said, I’m sure now more people won’t just go down the hall to use a computer. They will have one on their laps.

I don’t think the tablets will bring about radical changes in the WAY people consume content, however. Opening a photo album with my fingers may be the future, but you can do that with a mouse, too.

So it’s not the content experience that is sea change brought by the iPad or tablets, it’s the computer usage. That will drive MORE content and yes, new apps, … but the experience will be very familiar.

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