With the widely anticipated introduction of a tablet computer at an event here on Wednesday morning, Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine — a chance to undo mistakes of the past. Almost all media companies have run aground in the Internet Age as they gave away their print and video content on the Web and watched paying customers drift away as a result.
People who have seen the tablet say Apple will market it not just as a way to read news, books and other material, but also a way for companies to charge for all that content. By marrying its famously slick software and slender designs with the iTunes payment system, Apple could help create a way for media companies to alter the economics and consumer attitudes of the digital era.
This opportunity, however, comes with a sizable catch: Steven P. Jobs. Mr. Jobs, the chief executive, made Apple the most important distributor of music by imposing its own will on the music labels, bullying them into accepting Apple’s pricing and other terms. Apple sold lots of music, but the music labels claimed that iTunes had destroyed the concept of the album and damaged their already deteriorating bottom lines.
With the new tablet, media companies could be submitting themselves to similar pricing restrictions and sacrificing their direct relationship with customers to Apple. For now, at least, the technology and media industries are looking at the brighter side. “Steve believes in old media companies and wants them to do well,” said a person who has seen the device and is familiar with Apple’s marketing plan for it, but who did not want to be named because talking about it might alienate him from the company. “He believes democracy is hinged on a free press and that depends on there being a professional press.”