Newspapers are dead. Print is dead. We’ve heard that familiar refrain for years–and it’s partly true. Yes, the energy-intensive and environmentally dubious process of printing yesterday’s news on thin sheets of low-grade paper, and then delivering said paper via trucks and cars to millions of readers, is as good as dead. Of course, readers haven’t lost interest in journalism. It’s just that, well, online news won’t stain your fingers.
Now it appears Apple is pitching a digital alternative to the newspaper industry: A subscription plan for iPad and iPhone users. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Apple will soon announce its news subscription service, which may provide publishers with much-needed subscription and advertising revenues to replace their dying print business.
Several prominent news publishers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, already offer news apps for Apple mobile devices, so there’s some precedent here. The big question is whether consumers would be willing to pay for online news, which they’ve grown accustomed to reading for free for more than a decade.
Newspaper bosses are still kicking themselves over foregoing online pay walls back in the 1990s, and some are still trying to resurrect that iffy business model. The New York Times, for instance, has announced plans to construct some sort of pay wall next year for frequent readers, although details remain sketchy.
One unanswered question is whether news publishers would agree to Cupertino’s terms. The Mercury News reports that Apple could take a 30-percent cut of subscriptions sold via its App Store, and up to 40 percent of advertising revenue from the newspapers’ apps.
The ad revenue-sharing plan in particular may cause publishers to balk, and few newspapers relish the thought of using Apple as a middleman to woo subscribers. Then again, the imminent arrival of competing Android tablets may give publishers the leverage they need to cut a better deal with Steve Jobs.
Ideally, publishers would like to reconstruct their print business model online: Plenty of full-screen ads, some with animation and video, which command a premium from advertisers. Those days may be gone for good, however. The more immediate question is whether online consumers, aside from those accessing specialty sites like the Wall Street Journal, will pay for news at all.