Why a Publisher's Tablet Is a Terrible, Terrible Idea

Illustration for article titled Why a Publisher's Tablet Is a Terrible, Terrible Idea

CNN is onto a leak that The Tribune (the owner of the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Baltimore Sun to name just a few) is on the verge of releasing its very own tablet. WHY??


Many current and former Trib employees have spoken to CNN on the condition of anonymity about the new slate from the newspaper company. It'll run Android, and it will be pre-loaded with software for viewing Tribune media associated with the tablet-owner's home town. The idea behind it, I can only guess, is that newspaper sales are down, ink prices are up, and tablets are cool right now. This seems like a last-ditch effort to keep subscribers.

The plan, according to the leaks, is that the Tribune would subsidize a large portion of the initial cost for the tablet, or possibly give it away for free! There is something similar to logic behind this idea, as the fairly high sticker price of tablets that most of us don't really, actually NEED has kept the number of tablet owners in the U.S. to 8% (according to a Pew Research study), but still, do we need another tablet whose only differentiation is that you can have this newpaper's app on it? Especially when you can already get what would seem to be the same newspaper app for an iPad?

And dare we even think about just how ass-tastic the build-quality of a tablet you would give away for free would be? Would this not detract from the readers' experience rather than enhance it? And since newspaper revenue is comes almost entirely from its ads, how much would your eyes be bombarded in order for the paper to recoup its costs? I shudder to think.

I get it. You want to incentivize readers to stay with you, and you're willing to give them a cool present to do it. Why not just subsidize an existing tablet, though? Why spend the money on R&D while you're firing your writers and editors? Do we really believe that a newspaper company—specifically, a newspaper company that's in bankruptcy court—is going to push innovation here? I'm thinking no. I'm thinking a lot of no.[via CNN]

Image credit: Shutterstock/Robnroll

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Ah, Brent. I see. So this entire post is based on this presumption that subsidized tablets are somehow lower quality. How do you figure? The tablet is still being paid for, whether through the "contract" or outright. This isn't any different than other mobile devices that are subsidized. They aren't "cheaper" OR "free"—they're just being paid for through creative accounting.

In any event, the target audience is NOT your typical gadget lover. It's curious luddites who might consider this a valid way to dip their feet in the water. I'm sure there are plenty of traditional newspaper readers that fall into that category. In other words, this may very well be a smart move by Tribune Co. (which owns a lot more than just the Chicago Tribune, remember).

I'm sure they'll be concerned about user experience—and they're allegedly partnering with Samsung (according to the article you linked (but didn't read?), not starting from scratch.