We’re also preparing to launch a national iPad survey in July. We hope to collect data for several years to track how satisfaction and usage patterns change over time. The data we gather and analyze should be very helpful to news organizations and technology companies. You’ll be able to find more information about the survey on the Institute’s Web site.
CB: How do you see tablets and e-readers evolving with regard to the news business over the next five to ten years?
RF: Clearly, we’ll see full color e-paper displays within a year or so. The color won’t be as rich as you have on the iPad. It’s more like newsprint color from what I’ve seen so far. And the price of devices is going to come down pretty dramatically. I expect that the book-size e-readers will be under $100 in the next couple of years. The price point will get down to where people will see it as quite affordable.
I don’t think e-readers will come to match the iPad’s capabilities, and in fact they probably shouldn’t. The e-reader is intended to be a single-purpose device that is fairly easy to use. Efforts to make them more like the iPad could actually hasten their demise because I think it’s the simplicity that people are really looking for, especially for reading books.
The iPad will be where development is going to be the most intense over the next few years. We’ll certainly see other manufacturers with tablets probably using the Android system. But I think Apple is going to dominate the tablet market for the next five years at least. In that time, the iPad and tablets will get lighter, thinner, and more versatile, just like the original iPod. And they will get much cheaper. I think iPad-like tablets will become popular around the world. I still believe they could become the preferred medium for reading newspapers and magazines by 2020.
CB: Do you think publishers and news outlets are going to commit to these devices in a way they didn’t when you were at the Information Design Lab?
RF: Oh, I think they’re clearly committed to using these devices. There is a lot of confusion about when to jump in and how much they want to commit to them. My sense is that most newspapers are looking to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and maybe USA Today to test the waters first and determine if there is a solid market there before they jump in. I suspect it’s going to be a tough one for midsize newspapers to deal with.
The national newspapers clearly have the advantage of being able to provide the constant updates of national and international news. And they will be the ones that will attract the national advertising, which is going to be critical to their success. The metros have more of a challenge to take full advantage of the tablet. Their advertising support has been eroded a great deal by the mergers of department stores, grocery stores, and chains that used to provide much of the display advertising that went into their papers. They also have undergone the most extreme downsizing in recent years, so most now lack the staff required to tackle new projects.
I would definitely expect to see fewer printed newspapers in the next five to ten years. That’s inevitable. If the tablet can generate revenue from advertising anywhere close to what they have in print, that will only hasten this transition. Publishers don’t want it to happen too quickly; they want it to be a gradual transition because they have such a huge investment in their printing plants and distribution networks. But I think they’re all looking forward to the day when they can go all digital. As I’ve always said, this doesn’t mean the death of newspapers. Newspapers are essentially branded, curated packages of news and information. Paper is really just a display medium. The screen on a tablet is also just a display medium.