A Newsstand for the Tablet that might work

“Newsstand” by triin on Flickr.

Mario Garcia probably believes the lifespan (halflife?) of print newspapers will stretch out ever so slightly longer than I believe, but I’m constantly inspired by his original thought about the problems associated with sustaining any version of the existing structure of journalism, assuming for the moment that it’s a good idea.

And of course, he’s thinking about the Tablet. (I’m going to try to avoid focusing on any single product here, instead using the word “Tablet” as code for: multitouch slab of glass with applications and payment systems built in. Maybe there will be more than one entry in that genre.)

Here’s Mario on something he calls a street sales app:

“Based on this, I can imagine that the iPad could lure the undecided (or reluctant) newspaper reader by offering a menu of headlines from various sections of a newspaper—-or from various newspapers, of course, and make it so interesting, that I may click to read that story, and pay for that one-time user experience.”

Let’s take that a big step beyond a list of headlines.

We’re talking about a physical, visual device that allows the user to move things around with their hands. OK, their fingers. Fine. But that allows us to present the user with — instead of a list of headlines — a stack of newspapers.

Yes, yes, I know, I know, you don’t want to read a giant PDF on a Tablet, you want the Web. You want the full browsing experience, or if you’re thinking is slightly more advanced, you want a completely new sort of interface that’s more Minority Report than Washington Post.

I’m right there with you.

But there’s something that a “Washington Post” app for the Tablet removes from the equation, even if you’re smart enough to build it with in-app purchases of feature/exclusive/enterprise stories, puzzles, and databases.

It removes choice from the equation.

A choice that we do have when we open up an RSS reader and look at a list of 100 headlines in the morning.

A choice that we do have when we walk by a newsstand on the way to the subway station.

Now, truth be told, when I walked by the newsstand on the way to the subway station, I was already in a silo, with steadfast plans to purchase a New York Times and do the crossword on the way to the office. But at least I’d see the other papers, the other headlines.

So maybe a real live Tablet Newsstand is a good idea. If I’m not going to purchase a subscription to the New York Times, maybe I’ll glance at the headlines and buy a copy on my way to the office now and then. Maybe I’ll want to do the crossword. Or maybe I’ll see a great headline in the San Francisco Chronicle and buy that instead.

After all, the interfaces for a bookstore and library that Steve Jobs showed off the other day didn’t offer one chapter at a time, or one story at a time, they offered a book, sitting on a shelf.

Engadget’s photo of Steve’s slide.

(Yes, I’ve heard of Delicious Library.)

Of course, things brings up all sorts of interesting questions about which newspaper and magazine publishers would be willing to go in together on this sort of thing. They’d have to build the app themselves, decide how to split up the revenue, who to feature on which pages — this is all the sort of thing they might have preferred Apple take care of, eh?

So I’m interested. I’m interested in a newsstand that provides some opportunity for serendipity and revenue, not based on subscription models or paywalls, but based on the idea that I might pay something like 99 cents for a Tablet version of the New York Times when I’m in the mood to interact with it and, most likely, fiddle with the crossword on the way to work.

Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good

Full audio and transcript of a recent Clay Shirky talk that includes this note on the unbundling of media: “So, in the language of my tribe, the aggregation of news sources has gone from being a server-side to a client-side operation — which is to say, the decision about what to bring together into a bundle is made by the consumer and not at the level — and not by the producer.”

Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good

There is no newspapers

I’ve been saying those words in person to people a lot lately:

“There is no newspapers.”

What’s it mean?

It means that if you’re in the business of publishing pronouncements, predictions, prayers, analysis, criticism, or full on takedowns related to the current state of the newspaper industry, please understand that despite the convenience it would provide for said ruminations, there is no such thing as a monolithic, uniform entity called “newspapers.”


In my relatively short career, connected in one way or another to a wide variety of newspapers, I’ve already been involved with organizations staffed by crews of 1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, and 1,000 — and they’re owned by individuals, universities, nonprofits, corporations, communities, investment bankers, media moguls, local collectives — and the communities they serve have just as wide a variety of needs, wants, economies, sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds.

So the next time you’re about to use a phrase like “newspapers should…” or “newspapers have to…” or “newspapers can’t…” — I’d like you to stop for a moment and focus your decree a little more specifically.

Are you talking about the New York Times or are you talking about the Detroit News? Are you talking about the Denver Post or are you talking about the Holland Sentinel? Are you talking about El Pais or are you talking about El Nuevo Herald?

Are you talking about an imaginary entity where every piece of the puzzle is a uniformly shaped block, or are you talking about an incredibly diverse mass of publications that includes everything from shoppers to weeklies to alternative weeklies to the tiniest of dailies to major metros to national newspapers read all over the world?

Directly related: 10 little white lies you hear about the future of newspapers

Obviously: I’ve been guilty of this, myself, right here, although it’s been some time since my last “newspapers should.”

Crucial reading on the evolution of news, as it stands today

I feel like this summer has been sort of a rolling watershed moment in the Present of News, if not necessarily the Future of it.

(Yes, yes, the lowercase present is always becoming the lowercase future, but I’m talking about the supposed collective vision for the Future of News that, well, usually gets held up as a straw man as if every proponent of online news tools for communication believes the same thing.)

There are a lot of ongoing battles right now, if I can call them that, over things like paywalls and copyright. These are more than kerfuffles here, folks; we’re talking about the future business model paths for some pretty large chunks of the mainstream media at this point, for better or worse.

So, in an effort to pull together some of what I think would be the most important footnotes in the Summer 2009 chapter of the book someone surely must be writing at this point, here are some recent favorites:

Microformats, hNews, the AP and the Animals: Steve Yelvington sanely and succinctly dissects the AP/microformats weirdness and explains what could be great about the deal (Semantic Web!) and what doesn’t make any sense about the way they’re going about it (Function-free DRM!).

Chris Anderson on the Economics of ‘Free’: ‘Maybe Media Will Be a Hobby Rather than a Job’: Everything Chris Anderson says in this Spiegel interview is quotable and crucial to anyone interested in the future of news. Like this, for example: “If something has happened in the world that’s important, I’ll hear about it. I heard about the protests in Iran before it was in the papers because the people who I subscribe to on Twitter care about those things.”

The Nichepaper Manifesto: If you haven’t taken a look at Umair Haque’s piece yet, I think you’ll want to. Niches, topics, different models that are working online to bring *some* news to *some* people. Worth keeping around as a reference.

The Pushbutton Web: Realtime Becomes Real: Anil Dash’s crucial primer on the blossoming technology behind the Real-Time Web. This is the most important thing I’ve read in the last week.

What Would Fair Use Look Like in an Online Era?: C.W. Anderson starts exploring what an updated Fair Use test should look like in 2009. “1. The presence and quality of the link…”

A lesson from Patchwork Nation: Frameworks for Reporting: Chris Amico explains: “When I get a new set of data, I spend a good deal of time deciding what’s important, and where a story is. I might run it through a visualization tool, like ManyEyes. Starting with data but no story tends to be a slow process. Ending up with a story but no data makes me feel like I haven’t done my job.”

And you? What’s on your crucial reading list?

This post was ridiculously easy to write and compile thanks to Publish2’s WordPress plugin and its Link Assist feature. (Yes, I work at Publish2.)