With newspapers loosing hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, the iPad has been hailed by many as the saviour of the news industry. The tablet from Apple has been launched right at the edge of a huge change in the newspaper market, with the Times and Sunday Times to soon charge for access to their websites. While it seems that many will not pay for news online – 59 out of the 60 people I asked said they’d refuse to pay and would simple go elsewhere for their news – the applications market is huge and the consumer has been well-trained in the act of paying for them.
So maybe the newspapers can charge uses for iPhone, iPad or Android applications. Sure, they’ll loose a few customers – The Times editor has suggested that he fully expects the website to loose 95% of it’s users once the paywall goes up, charging £1 per day or £2 per week.
Just weeks before Rupert’s paywall drops on the Times’ sites, their iPad app has hit the UK AppStore with a price of £9.99 for a one month subscription. On the face of it this may seem steep, but you do get the entire contents of the six Times newspapers of the week. Sadly the Sunday Times is not included in this price, and will have it’s own app launched soon at a currently unknown price.
So I coughed up my £10 and downloaded Friday’s paper. Sure, the app looks like a newspaper but it’s so much moor than just text and the odd photos. Those photos look great and there’s also embedded video thanks to Sky News and the navigation includes some slick transitions. No naff PowerPoint stuff, but actually decent, subtle animations when hopping from one story to another by tapping on the headlines.
An account is not required, unlike on the Times website, but I’d happily hand over my name and email address in return for the ability to leave comments on stories and features. I think this would act as feedback to the writers, pointing out typing errors in copy can’t be a bad thing in retaining the paper’s credibility. Also, comments lead to a social community developing, so long as they are moderated to avoid YouTube style hate and trash talk. I’ve mentioned my request for comments to a guy who works on the app and this has been passed on, so if I hear anything I’ll update this post.
I have used the app extensively over the last few days and only corm across two problems, both of which occurred while reading Monday’s edition. First, I tapped to view a story and the app crashed; no big deal but when I reopened the app I found that all of my papers had been deleted, forcing me to download them again. Also, one story seemed to be missing; tapping the headline gave me a blank page time and again. Small issues really as the rest of the app works beautifully.
So let’s return to an age-old question. Is news worth paying for? Being a geek, I like having the paper on my iPad, or Kindle or whatever, so yes I’ll happily pay for it. After all, the app is a lot cheaper than buying the printed paper for £1 each day, albeit more expensive than the website subscription, but of course then app offers news offline once downloaded.
The Guardian recently said that the advert revenue is all they need and will not use a paywall, and will presumably not charge for apps either, buy their editor conceded that if the Times’ paywall works, then The Guardian may well follow suit.
The argument boils down to an argument between tangible and intangible content and if they can both command a similar value. People seem to forget that they are paying for the journalist, not just the paper his or her words are printed on. As an example, it costs the Times neatly £1 million per year to have a permanent reporter in Iraq.
Anyway, this debate could run and run; I’ll end by saying that the Times iPad app is very good and has encouraged me to consume more news than I would otherwise, and the price is perfectly acceptable for what it provides.
The next year will be very interested indeed for the printed news sector. I can’t wait.
The Times for iPad is available here
PS. I’d just like to add a big thumbs-up to whoever runs the Times iPad App Twitter account, www.twitter.com/news_TheTimes , who have helped me with the above-mentioned crashing issue. Great customer service!