Having seen All The Presidents Men approximately 8,472 times, I got all the in-jokes in The Washington Post’s commercial for its new (free) iPad app.
And that, I suppose was the point: Even geezers (like Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee) can learn to read geezer (old-school) media on the iPad.
I thought it was a clever ad and wholly targeted at the Digital Immigrants, who are going to have to find a new way to consume dead tree media soon if all the prognostication about the death of newspapers comes true sooner rather than later.
It brought to mind the Roman Coppolla-directed commercial for the New Yorker iPad app, which starred indie darling Jason Schwartzman. But, again, aimed at the geezer set, not Brooklyn hipsters.
It’s all very smart and clever and … free. That was the part that really got me.
As someone who is recovering from nearly two decades in newspaper newsrooms, I’ve spent a fair portion of my life pondering how the news media are going to monetize. When the iPad first came on the scene, many hailed it as the savior of print.
All these publications that had been giving the cow away for free online would be able to sell subscriptions by developing gorgeous apps that gave the reader an experience they couldn’t get by reading the print version online.
And some magazines have developed stunning apps for the iPad that will have many happily parting with a few bucks — Wired, Food & Wine and Esquire, for example. (Note: For most of the magazines, the apps themselves are free, but to download each issue costs a few dollars.)
But magazines are different. They’re as much about the design and presentation as they are about the content. Always have been (except The New Yorker, which is about the cartoons and the content). The question to this point has been whether newspapers would be able to capitalize on the iPad format.
The Washington Post seems to say yes.
But see, once you get past that front page, you discover this app isn’t really free. First off, there’s all the advertising - Exxon/Mobil is sponsoring this free, full-access trial. Mine lasts until Feb. 15 – it’s not clear if that’s the end date for everyone or if that depends on the date you download.
And, it turns out, you need to be a registered user of WashingtonPost.com (free registration, but you’re still giving away your e-mail/name/etc).
None of that is mentioned in the Woodward/Bradlee ad, of course.
The ads, however, sure are attractive:
But if the iPad is to be the savior of print, it would stand to reason that it would have to be new and different.
While it’s really an attractive format, it’s still asking the same old thing from readers: Sign into our site to read it. And in a few months, you’ll have to pay us to access this (though how much that will be is not yet clear). Or who knows – maybe not. Maybe another sponsor will come on board. And three months after that, another sponsor. Maybe that’s the future of journalism: short-term corporate sponsorship (shudder).
For the geezer set who may be losing their print editions in the not-too-distant future, this option may not seem too bad.
But after watching newspapers desperately trying to figure out how to attract and hold onto younger readers for the past 20 years, I’m pretty sure those aren’t the readers The Washington Post are concerned about.
So will the iPad save newspapers? I took a look in my Magic 8 Ball and, rather enigmatically, it answered, “Reply hazy, try again.”