The Chicago-based geniuses at the Tribune Co., corporate parent of the Los Angeles Times, have their sights set on an iPad killer. Really. Because nothing says "future-forward high-tech hub" like the land of hot-dogs and coronary disease.
The company is said to be working on a concept that will give a low-cost Android tablet to customers in exchange for subscriptions to its content.
This as layoffs appear to be ongoing at the Times, a paper that has atrophied from about 1,500 editorial employees at its peak in the '90s to about 500 today. Oh yeah, and did we mention Tribune was bankrupt? Media watchers and tech geeks have had fun with this one:
" ... Please stop trying to make your own tablets," Tim Carmody implores at Wired.
Tribune Co. to date has no tablet-optimized Android apps for its newspapers. (Is any part of this making sense yet?)
Let's look at the field. Hardware is hard. It's hard to develop, it's hard to design, it's hard to find partners, it's hard to source parts, it's hard to build, it's hard to get working, it's hard to keep costs down and it's extraordinarily hard at the end of that process to produce something popular.
Yeah, it's really almost impossible to fathom that the people who brought us radio tard Lee Abrams and a succession of youth-culture tabloids (Metromix, Brand X) that they believed would bring young people streaming back to print products could come up with a gadget that would save its ass and give an elbow to Apple, the richest corporation on earth.
Only the hubris-tainted, over-confident, self-satisfied MBA suits who helped drive journalism into the shitter in the last two decades could come up with such a miles-out-of-touch idea.
Here's the deal: We like iPads, and we think there's a bright future for them. But anyone with half a brain in the business knows that mobile -- and we're talking smartphones -- is where the growth is going to be. That's because most people can get them, including the coveted youth demo.
Now, those people who have a clue are chasing "mobile," -- designing simple, linear blogs with bright, talkative language, minimal graphics and man-bites-dog stories for people to read on their lunch breaks. Sure, New Yorker subscribers will totally dig into 10,000-word stories on their iPads, but if you want to scale the lower price on advertising online you gotta go mass.
Some folks inside Tribune get this, and you can see in the size, shape and tone of some of the successful blogs at the Times, for example.
But to think that a tablet is going to save the biz is to hold onto print: A tablet allows to you sell big, newspaper-style ads and turn pages and layout stories and do all the stuff that so isn't the future of this business.
In other words, tablets are the ideal placebo for those who really don't get it. It's really about digital print, not the total transformation toward blogging we've seen in the last 5 years.
So, if you're a Times reader who has to endure another round of cuts that will surely take your favorite journalist off the beat while Tribune execs continue to have their eyes off the ball, should you be pissed? Yes.
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But enough of our opinion. Just ask Tom Krazit at paidContent:
Crowd-pleasing tablet design has really only been nailed by one company, and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) used much of what it learned from the iPhone in creating the iPad. Other Android competitors simply haven't been able to match the iPad the way they were able to match the iPhone, and even though this is still a brand-new market it's hard to imagine that a media company has the design knowledge and insight to make a dent in the tablet market.
In other words, good luck with that.