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When Steve Jobs unveiled the original iPad it was hailed as a content consumption device. Most of the people that I know that own a tablet use it almost exclusively to consume content, not to create it. Despite the heavy emphasis on consumption, publishers have struggled to get smartphone and tablet owners to pay for content on their devices.
This struggle between publishers and readers is as old as the Internet. The Internet set a new standard for content with most websites publishing articles for free with ads lining the sides of the website. Eventually publishers used paywalls to force readers to pay for a subscription or a one time fee to read an article in its entirety. Readers who had become accustomed to free content moved on to other sources or looked for ways to get the article for free. The iPad was supposed to be the medium with which publishers would be able to charge for content again, but as Jason Pontin of Technology Review explains, the cost of app development and limited reader response made the iPad an illegitimate messiah of publishing.
Pontin concludes that since the iPad and Newsstand failed to attract subscribers, the web must be the future of publishing, not apps. I’m convinced that Pontin is wrong. Publishers made two vital errors with digital publishing: first, apps should not be treated as a magazine replacement and second, people shouldn’t be forced to pay for content that they don’t want. If publishers and Google can work together to correct these errors, together they can save digital magazines and newspapers.