iPhone – Noah's Ark of the Newspaper Industry

Manson Shum
Senior Reporter, Ming Pao Daily News
( Translated by Belinda Winterbo)

Since the iPhone 3GS was launched in July, on my MTR journeys I haven't seen one carriage without a person plugging away at their iPhone, and as Apple founder Steve Jobs said, it's 5 years ahead of the world. Just as the traditional news outlets were counting their final days, this phone could prove to be the saving grace, and the difference here could really be a decision between life and death.

So how does the iPhone lead the world? First off, there are over 80 thousand applications for the iPhone online, some free and some are available at a fee. For those that require a fee, they start from US$0.99 up, and mostly are made up of the cheapest options. Apart from Google's Android phone copying this platform, other phones such as Nokia and Samsung are trying to hop on the bandwagon as well. The advantage the iPhone has is the extremely convenient trading platform and the cheap applications, giving buyers the false impression that they're not actually paying a lot for all the downloads (with the author being one of them). To an extent, it changes the spending concept and cultivating a huge contingent of potential paying readers.

It's not just the so called Y generation that is attracted to using the iPhone. A newspaper editor apparently sighed and said “I woke up and read the whole newspaper on my iPhone! It's amazing!” And this editor inadvertently added to the death of the traditional newspaper.

Paper apparently has become a real baggage for the traditional newspaper, and the phone has become a reading platform and could save money for newspaper outlets. An international company recently came out with a new iPhone software which could be the turning point for the way newspapers are read in the future. This software – PressReader could be read online and could download 1300 newspapers, such as the UK's Guardian, US's Washington Post, China Daily, Taiwan's Apple Daily etc, and more and more newspapers are hopping on board.

Not Just Reading Online

PressReader allows you to read each page of the newspaper in pdf format, which means you could move the page around and read everything including news items and adverts, and feels just like you're reading the real thing. If you're not a fan of pdf, you could also choose some particular articles from the front page, and pure text would pop up, and the size just fits the iPhone screen; and press another couple of buttons and you could share the article with your friends by email; and you could even listen to the article being read out in different languages.

After the November 2009 trial period ended, PressReader started charging US$0.99 for each newspaper. If you love reading newspapers, you could register to become a member, and you could either opt to pay a monthly fee of US$9.95 which would allow you to browse through 21 publications or US$29.95 with unlimited browsing.

With the savings made in paper, printing and transportation costs, this type of electronic newspaper could mean there could be room for cost cutting. With the price introduced now, I envisaged that PressReader, the middleman, charged newspapers to and extent that some media have not joined, but rather created their own applications, such as New York Times, Time Magazine, HK's Apple Daily, Reuters etc which are all free. And it looks like for now only the Sankei Shimbun in Japan is using the full pdf format which has far less features than PressReader.

 Looking to the future, the free applications may be plotting to start charging. Apple Daily plans to look towards animated news, I expect other individual media outlets to start charging like PressReader. By then, the content and the applications of these outlets must be attractive enough.

The question is how do newspapers survive in the Internet age? There are many examples both in overseas and locally. Some people say the setting up of free websites for newspapers is not really curing the thirst, but rather cultivating the readers' thirst for more 'free reading' and the advertising revenue incurred from web cannot compensate the loss of readers. That's why despite more people going on to the New York Times site, the news outlet is still losing a lot of money and ended up laying off staff. Others say, why not charge for all information? And in the international market, over 100 media outlets have formed an association in the hope of 'locking up' free media, and in the future, if you want to read the paper online, you'll need to pay. PressReader may be the pioneer in the development.

Can traditional media rely on mobile phones to cover costs? The success or failure of PressReader will be a key test. But if you take Hong Kong as an example, you just need one paper to refuse to join, and the whole ship would sink.

Maybe some people might find the screen of the phone too small, and the data takes up too much memory, and a bit difficult to scroll through. But there have been reports that Steve Jobs has another trick up his sleeve - the flat computer. It is a bigger version of the iPhone but a smaller version of the Macbook with a 10 to 14 inch screen, no keyboard and all touchscreen, which would make it an easier read than with an iPhone.

Portable Archive

As a reporter in the traditional media, I'm just amazed at the convenience the iPhone has brought to my job. I just need a 3G signal, and even if I'm in the sticks, I could still find my positioning through satellite. If I got lost, I could just enter the name of the building and start a search and with the help of Google map I could just navigate my way through. If I come across something interesting, I could just take a photo, email it back to the office (I had previously sent a photo back to the office to check the name of the person, and this is something MMS may not be able to do).

If you wanted to go through some old articles, you could go online and email it. If you had any complicated interview details, you could just send it to your email first, or store it on Google Docs, and check it while you're doing the interview.

Every time you punch in a telephone number, you could send it to your Google or Apple telephone book online, so you would not need to worry about losing the number. As you know contacts are key to a journalists' work.

While working on the Mainland, you may use an Easyown card to enjoy 2.75G net with the cheapest rate. This enables you to use msn or Skype to send info back to the company, and not need to call the office all the time. And if your iPhone had been decoded to allow you to put non Apple software, then you could Skype for free and watch Youtube as well in high definition wherever you go!

The convenience of the iPhone has so far been unsurpassed and really does make reporting life much easier. But the limitations are there – it can't be plug in a memory card. Many photographers have complained that it would be great if they could take photos, and then plug in a card to the iPhone and mail it back to the office. If so, there wouldn't be a need to carry a huge notebook around. And print journalists must also think it would be great if the iPhone could like other phones have an external keypad, so reporters can just type up their scripts anywhere they choose. Knowing Apple's trading tactics, I don't think it will satisfy our needs. Moreover, if we use it to go online all day long, the batteries will get sapped dry pretty soon. That explains this 'love/hate' relationship between journalists and the iPhone.