A Free iPad with Your Paid Subscription?
Maybe it's time for Sports Illustrated to bring back the sneaker phone. That's what it took in 1991 to get people to subscribe to SI, and it might be what's needed to sell a tablet version of the magazine two decades later.
Love it or hate it, the iPad remains the publishing industry's best chance at resurrection, but only if enough consumers buy in. The price tag is the biggest obstacle — $499 for an iPlane Jane model or $629 plus monthly service for 3G-powered Pad. But what if the publishing industry helped to defray that cost, bundling an iPad with a multiyear subscription to hundreds of newspapers and magazines? It's a short-term investment that could pay off handsomely, and one of many options that should be considered in order to lure a new generation of readers to a new world of possibilities.
With the iPad comes the power to custom-build your own newspaper, driven by settings you control. A front page designed specifically for you — by you — with content culled from your favorite news sources and updated in real time. Like Harry Potter's newspaper, it has pictures that move and words that change before your eyes. Unlike the web, where newspapers and magazines have become virtually interchangeable, the iPad offers the chance for newspapers to leverage their strength: hyperlocal coverage that's up to the minute. This is not your grandfather's newspaper. You don't just read it — you interact with it, through social networks, blogs and discussion groups.
Magazines, too, are poised for a revival, as Sports Illustrated demonstrated in December with its prototype tablet edition, produced in collaboration with The Wonderfactory. Its chances for success hinge entirely on the public's willingness to buy tablets like the iPad. Those chances improve with help from Time Inc. What if they bundled every one of its 23 titles into a single offering that includes a brand new iPad? A multimagazine subscription needn't be real-time, so the entry-level iPad would do the job. Build into the monthly fee the cost of the iPad, enabling the consumer to repay Time Inc. for the device over 24 installments rather than shelling out $499 at once. That's one way to get people to reach for their sneaker phones and pay for a tablet edition — throw in the tablet.
After all, what good are these innovations if there are experienced only by those passing time at the Apple Store? As newspapers and magazines tally the costs of reconfiguring their content, they should consider the benefits of subsidizing hardware costs in order to put the iPad into as many hands as possible, just as the cellphone companies give out handsets in order to collect monthly fees. By working together, perhaps there's a way for publishers to help distribute the infrastructure costs for this new delivery model — partnering with each other, with other industries, or even with consumers.
As lacking as iPad 1.0 may seem, it's the surest way to build a loyal audience for 1.1 and beyond. But somebody may have to, ahem, help foot the bill.
(Note: Thanks to Golf Digest's Tim Oliver for inspiring this blog post with his football phone anecdote on Facebook. Your sneaker phone is in the mail . . . Feel better soon!)