The Apple iSlate Won't Save Journalism -- Yet

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"There hasn't been this much hype about a tablet since Moses came down from the mountain," David Carr gushes about the forthcoming Apple tablet, which promises to be something like the missing link between e-reader and computer. I'm excited, too! There's a lot to talk about with Apple's new "iSlate," from tech specs to industry implications. But let's focus on the most proximate question -- for me at least. Can it save journalism?


One way to look at the last ten years in online media is that the aughts were the decade when tech savvy Americans learned to expect everything they could read, watch and hear to be free. The next decade will have to be The Empire Strikes Back for media companies. Consumers will have to re-learn the mental muscle memory of paying for what we consume.

The e-reader is a huge part of the puzzle. Publishers who blew it by giving away everything for free on computers have a raft of new e-reader gizmos where they can charge for access to their content and train readers to expect to pay for the content. The Apple "iSlate" represents the apotheosis of the early e-reader revolution. Ideally, techies expect a blown-up iPhone with a touchable screen, readable text and goshwow graphics capabilities. This kind of machine combined with an online digital storefront for magazines and newspapers could presumably persuade readers to start paying for the privilege of reading news again. Carr elaborates:

A simple, reliable interface for gaining access to paid content can do amazing things: Five years ago, almost no one paid for music online and now, nine billion or so songs sold later, we know that people are willing to pay if the price is right and the convenience is there.

I'm on Carr's side here: salivating for the Apple tablet; excited for the Hulu-for-magazines project; rooting for a Journalism Savior; and so on. But the first step is key. Newspapers and magazines have to eventually put up a paid wall for readers. This is very simple: Nobody will pay for something they can easily get conveniently, and for free. Without a pay wall perimeter around journalism's finest estates, the Apple iSlate won't be a savior. It'll be just another device where we get free stuff.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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