I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of “content” isn’t just that they can get it for free, though: it’s that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed. Rupert Murdoch can rattle his saber all he likes about taking his content out of Google, but I say do it, Rupert. We’ll miss your fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the Web so little that we’ll hardly notice it, and we’ll have no trouble finding material to fill the void.
Just like the gadget press is full of devices that gadget bloggers need (and that no one else cares about), the mainstream press is full of stories that affirm the internal media consensus. Yesterday’s empires do something sacred and vital and most of all grown up, and that other adults will eventually come along to move us all away from the kids’ playground that is the wild web, with its amateur content and lack of proprietary channels where exclusive deals can be made. We’ll move back into the walled gardens that best return shareholder value to the investors who haven’t updated their portfolios since before eTrade came online.
But the real economics of iPad publishing tell a different story: even a stellar iPad sales performance isn’t going to do much to staunch the bleeding from traditional publishing. Wishful thinking and a nostalgia for the good old days of lockdown won’t bring customers back through the door.
Gadgets come and gadgets go. The iPad you buy today will be e-waste in a year or two (less, if you decide not to pay to have the battery changed for you). The real issue isn’t the capabilities of the piece of plastic you unwrap today, but the technical and social infrastructure that accompanies it.
If you want to live in the creative universe where anyone with a cool idea can make it and give it to you to run on your hardware, the iPad isn’t for you. If you want to live in the fair world where you get to keep (or give away) the stuff you buy, the iPad isn’t for you. If you want to write code for a platform where the only thing that determines whether you’re going to succeed with it is whether your audience loves it, the iPad isn’t for you.