The second breakout session I attended was led by James Harris, co-founder of Elemental Interactive and focused more or less on the social sharing of news content.
According to Harris, 2011 will be “The Year of The Tablet” as about 30 new makes and models flood the marketplace, joining the likes of the iPad. According to a Forrester study, one-third of all U.S. online customers will own a tablet computer by 2015. Harris believes that the future of all media will be digital, expertly curated and highly personalized. To Harris, the combination of social magazines and tablet computers leads to a state of reading Nirvana. He said that backward-looking, month-old printed mail magazine subscriptions will be rendered close to useless.
Harris said that a magazine in today’s day and age should be real time, current and fresh. He considers tablet (at this point really iPad) apps Flud, Flipboard and Newsmix as social browsers (I would add OnGo News to this list) and contends that social browsing allows us to rethink the magazine and newspaper formats.
I agree with the basic premise that Harris lays out about the significance and spread of socially curated news content, as well as the emergence of tablet computers in the coming year. My overall impression of this session, however, was mixed.
For starters, there was much debate and disagreement over what a magazine is. I chimed in that while there are standard conventions associated with design of newspapers, magazines and newsmagazines there are also standard conventions associated with the new platform that is a tablet. The tablet is literally a hands-on device. The ability to touch, swipe, move and shake adds a much more value-added user experience to the consumption of news. Murdoch’s The Daily, although only days in its infancy, is a perfect example of combining traditional news conventions with the conventions of the iPad platform. When it comes to interactivity, The Daily offers an immersive hands-on news consumption experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen or held before. Simply put, it’s awesome.
The other issue I have about this session is I feel the economics of such “social browsers” was glossed over. An audience member asked how do you pay for social news. There wasn’t really a good answer. But as I’ve written on here before, economics are important. The Daily is an important first-mover game-changer but I doubt others will be able to replicate its success as what I believe will be a financially-viable iPad-only publication. When discussing the economics of these social curation magazines, there are two points to keep in mind:
1)Legacy media are already getting in on this game. OnGo News is a joint collaboration of The Times Co., Washington Post Co. and Gannett, aka The Big Boys of News. The New York Times will soon launch News.Me, their social news answer to Murdoch’s The Daily. (Harris focused much of his talk on Flipboard).
2)Paywalls will fundamentally change social curation. Third-party devices like Flipboard effectively poach content from other sources. In some instances, these are partnerships with willing media partners. In other instances, it is not. Once content from The New York Times goes behind a paywall, it will be incredibly difficult if not impossible to socially curate and share that content on a device like Flipboard. Social curation as we know it is predicated on the ease of disseminating online content that is presently free. Once you have to pay for that content (and all indications are that you will have to increasingly pay for more and more of the online content we love) , the game changes. Once the online media eco-system shifts from free to fee, you need platforms, devices and a workable business model that will support the drastic change from the status quo.
Of course, that is an entirely different debate and one in which the industry does not agree. I continue to advocate for micropayments, specifically in the modified form I co-developed in the Graybeal & Hayes’ “Modified News Micropayment Model.” (in press in The International Journal on Media Management).
I welcome discussion on these points. Thanks to James Harris for sharing his knowledge and starting the debate at SoCon11.