Apple's Secrets Revealed, For a Price

There's an interesting test going on in the world of Webbernet publishing right now -- well, interesting to me; I can't speak for the rest of Cringeville.

Fortune magazine just published an in-depth, exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how Apple operates. That story in itself offers up a few fascinating factoids, per author Adam Lashinsky. Witness:

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  • Steve Jobs's obscenity-laced tirade in front of Apple's MobileMe team after its disastrous launch in summer 2008.
  • Jobs's sermon on the differences between janitors and VPs at Apple (janitors get to explain why they screwed up, but veeps don't).
  • The Apple "Top 100," a meeting of the top 100 Apple employees, as deemed by Jobs, that takes place each year in a secret location.
  • The fact that Jobs calls the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg "our friend." No surprise, really, to anyone who's followed Mossberg's coverage of the iPhone and his extraordinary access to Jobs. But you don't usually hear CEOs talking about reporters that way.

Here's the really interesting part: Instead of publishing that story first to the Web and then to print, Fortune published only a brief excerpt on the Web. The rest was published on the magazine's iPad app ($5 for a single issue, $20 for a year's subscription), or via a 99 cent download for the Kindle, though it won't be available until tomorrow -- damn them.

This brings us front and center to the debate over Internet paywalls, which I've written about a few times in this space. That issue is coming up a lot more now that the New York Times has erected a wall of its own. In brief:

  • The argument for paywalls: They might just save the few publications still standing, as well as cover the bar bills of the reporters and editors who still collect a regular paycheck.
  • The argument against paywalls: It takes only one blogger to pay for the content and spill the beans for free to make that paywall about as useful as a hydroelectric dam made out of Captain Crunch boxtops.

Naturally you'd expect that would be the case here too. To a certain degree, it was (that's how I know as much as I do about that article, not being an iPadder).

But it seems that, according to All Things Digital's Peter Kafka, Fortune's editors reached out to certain bloggers who were excerpting too much and asked them to dial it back a bit. Kafka himself republished -- and then unpublished -- a cool-looking org chart for Apple showing Jobs as the dark star around which all other Apple execs orbit.

I asked Fortune managing editor Dan Roth to confirm what Kafka wrote (via Twitter, natch). His response: Yes, it's true. Fortune requested "three or four" bloggers to dial back, each of whom was "very understanding." Roth says he has no plans to identify who they were, though judging by the sudden disappearance of this story -- found in Google's cache -- it's pretty clear the 9to5Mac blog was one of them. The Macstories blog also seems to have dialed back its original, rather generous, excerpting.

Per Kafka, Fortune wanted some of the story to leak out via the blogosphere, but not so much that people could avoid spending actual money to read it. How did Fortune figure out how much was too much? Only Roth knows for sure. But add that to the job description for journalist/editor types from now on.

Me, I'd pay 99 cents to read that article, even though Roth says it will, eventually, be available for free on the Web. I wouldn't pay $5 for it, though I have often paid that much for print publications -- something about the ephemeral nature of bits, I suspect.

I certainly wouldn't buy an iPad just to get magazine articles (and I've been working in the magazine/webazine industry for 3,297 years), but I'm hoping other folks will. Because somebody or something -- whether it's paywalls or iPad apps or something else not yet imagined -- needs to save us endangered reporter types before it's too late. It would also be nice if somebody else covered my bar tab, at least once in a while.

How much would you pay for the news? Make your bids below or email me:

This article, "Apple's secrets revealed -- for a price," was originally published at Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

This story, "Apple's Secrets Revealed, For a Price" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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