Chicago Tribune is developing their own tablet. Why?

UPDATE: 

  • This will not be a tablet built from the ground up specifically for Tribune. It’ll be a simple subsidy. However, actual specially-built hardware was the plan for a full year and Microsoft was to have built it (and perhaps did) before it was scrapped in favor of using an Android OS. So let’s try to imagine how much money, time and energy was spent on this over the course of a YEAR.
  • The company has not been chosen. So while they’re allegedly talking to Samsung, it might not be them in the end.
  • Nothing has been fully decided, but this modified tablet will possibly have some apps you can’t remove, others you won’t be able to download, etc. In other words, a partial walled garden.
  • From the beginning, the subscription period that has been discussed in order to get the tablet has been 2 years, as I suspected.

 

I’ve known about this for a while now (nevermind how) and now that CNN has the story, I guess we can discuss it.

Sort of.

Because as you can see, no one would be quoted by name in this story.

The person who is credited with being the driving force behind the project wouldn’t be interviewed.

Tribune and Samsung refused to comment.

What is this, the Manhattan Project? No, this is just the way big media does things. It is an operational philosophy directly in contrast with the way things operate in the digital realm. If anyone in the executive offices of the Tower is unfamiliar with what I mean, they can talk to some of their own employees to get an explantation.

See, the way us crazy online people do things is that we share as much information as possible about what we’re working on with our core consitituencies. Lots of wonderful things can happen that way. We can get early word-of-mouth on new products. We can get valuable feedback that would shape the development of our products and initiatives. We can show ourselves to be leaders in our industry by trying something new and innovative. We can inspire our employees.

Of course a company can’t talk about everything it’s doing. A foods company wouldn’t want all the other foods companies to know about its new potato chip for instance, because the idea could be stolen by a direct competitor. In some industries, it’s vitally important to be the first product to come to market. I don’t believe news is one of those industries, but please let me know if I’m mistaken.

Why else wouldn’t Tribune want to talk about this and why does no one still want to talk about it now even when this tablet is on the brink of testing? I hope you can come up with something, because the only things that come to mind for me are:

  • This is a terrible idea and no one (save for a few top people) is keen to discuss it in advance of its possible failure. (By the way, this would be a bad, bad reason not to talk about it since even failures can be instructive and there’s nothing wrong with failing if you learned something valuable in the process.)
  • This is the way big media is accustomed to doing things: just dropping things in the marketplace without any input from anyone. (Because it’s always worked so well in the past, right?)
  • They are under the impression that this would “give something away” to competitors. (I don’t see how this could be valid. I can’t imagine anyone else in the Chicago area with the resources ro undertake a similar project and even if they started it immediately, they wouldn’t be able to be done first.)

Beyond all this, I have to wonder who exactly this tablet is aimed at. Because you can only get the tablet if you sign up for an extended subscription (what does that even mean?) to the paper, so I guess it’s aimed at people who value having a newspaper subscription. As has been well documented, the number of such people continues to drop. Moreover, the demographic that subscribes to the paper is getting older and not being replaced by younger subscribers. Meanwhile, 63% of iPad owners are under 35 years old. Granted, iPads aren’t the only tablets out there, but Apple is so far the dominant, most user-friendly tablet brand so I think we can safely generalize about other devices especially given the fact that only 8% of the public has any kind of tablet at all.

So we have a mostly older population that values having a newspaper subscription and a mostly younger population embracing tablets. How does the Tribune expect to marry the two?

Now, a current print subscriber who reads the paper on actual paper might be enticed to get the tablet for free or a deeply discounted price because the only barrier would be to sign up for the paper for, say, a few more years. They already get the paper so perhaps they will opt in for this electronic trinket even if they don’t see the need for it. It’s like when you open up the checking account for the free gift. Maybe you don’t really need the item, but hey it’s free and they’re giving it away so why not?

As for the younger, under 35 folks who we have seen subscribe to newspapers in very small numbers but are the group using tablets the most, what would entice them to go with the Tribune tablet rather than an iPad or some other brand? The discount on the tablet itself would quickly be wiped out by the committment to a one or two year subscription to the paper or whatever time period “extended” refers to. To say nothing of the fact that when someone decides to shop for a tablet, they aren’t exactly thinking hmmm, Apple, Samsung, BlackBerry or… Chicago Tribune!

Thus it seems clear that this initiative is aimed at retaining those older subscribers who have not yet abandoned the print paper. If so, it seems an awful lot of time and money and staff energy to spend on holding on to the past instead of planning for the future.

2 Comments

  1. Reply
    Anonymous August 9, 2011

    Interesting aside: Milian was a tech blogger at LA Times before jumping ship to CNN about a year ago. So he probably knows People Who Know Something About This.

    Anonymous sourcing’s still annoying, though.

  2. Reply
    Anna Tarkov August 9, 2011

    Agreed. But what are you gonna do when everyone straight refuses to be named in situations like this? I of course want badly for this to change, if it wasn’t clear from the Media Omerta thing.

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