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By Thomas Baekdal - December 2009

The Future of News, Tablets, and Business Models

There is much talk these days about tablets and ereaders. Not only do we have the constant rumor that Apple is making one, but it seems like every newspaper on the planet see them as the "prophet" that will save them from their doom.

Lately, a very impressive tablet reader was showcased to the world - the Time Inc. tablet, featuring how "Sports Illustrated" would work.


It certainly looks impressive. I will even go as far as to call it stunning. No wonder why people call it the future of news... except it isn't. Far from it.

This isn't the future of news. This will not save the newspapers. It will only prolong their demise. This will help the newspaper fight change, to stifle peoples desires, and ultimately make them even more irrelevant.

Is it a horse or a car?

A long time ago, when the world was changing how we moved around, Henry Ford said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

He knew that the answer to a faster horse was to build a car. It was to change how we do things. It was to solve the real problem. It was not to use all the new technology to make faster horses.

The tablet of "Sports Illustrated" isn't a car. It is merely a faster horse. Sure it is faster and better than the printed newspaper, but they are not solving the real problem. They are stuck in a world of "how it used to be," and are simply adding technology to it.

There is no change here, there is no real innovation. It's a newspaper on a tablet, and that's not what we want.

What we really want

Let's face it, the newspaper industry is dying because they are no longer needed. They are the middleman between us and the news itself. What we really want is "news," not "newspapers".

The newspapers were created to solve "how to bring news from around the world to you." And in the past there was really no practical way to do that. The old newspaper model, as illustrated below, is to send a reporter out to find news. This is then handed over to the newspaper editors who turn it into a newspaper and deliver it to you.

Another very big part of the newspaper industry is to sell their news to other newspapers. Again, because distance was a problem, and every newspaper had to create a complete package.

This reporting model is highly visible when you go to Google News, where you can see how many newspapers that reported the same story.

We don't really need 4,497 nearly identical articles (actually most of them are 100% the same, because they are reprinted articles from Reuters or AP). This is the result of an old model where redistribution are the only way to reach your readers.

As Google news clearly illustrates, we no longer have that problem. Today all the newspapers are simply creating noise and clutter. Mass quantities of duplicated content that are hideously expensive to make.

The internet is much simpler. It is simply connecting the people who produce news, with the people who want news.

And, this has a dramatic effect on the newspaper business models.

The three models that no longer work are:

  1. Reporting, where reporters are telling you about what other people/companies have done. I don't need to have a person telling me that "Google wrote on its blog that...."

  2. Selling news to other news outlets. Why would we read a copy, when we can just as easily read the original? And more to the point, why would we pay for the production of a copy, when we can simply pay for the original (which in many cases are free).

    Why would I buy a newspaper that is filled with copies articles, when I can read the original just as easially?

  3. Everything in a closed package - a destination. The model of creating a thing, a newspaper, has an adverse effect in the online world. In the past every family would subscribe to about three different news sources. A broad morning paper, a local daily paper, and evening news on TV.

    Today we subscribe to several hundred channels, everything from general news, articles from interesting people, articles from your sisters blog, pictures on Flickr, friends favorite music on, and many other sources.

    It is simply impossible for a newspaper to cover that, and any package they make will be vastly incomplete.

    The newspaper model doesn't work in a world of infinite channels and sources of interest.

The three new models that do work:

The business models of the past are replace by three other models that are centered around connecting news with people. These are:

  1. Be the creator and connector of news. The new media landscape is a fantastic opportunity for every journalist in the world. Instead of simply reporting what Google wrote on its blog, you bring something new to the world. You give people a story that goes beyond what Google wrote. You provide analysis. You provide comparisons. You do more than just reporting. Every story is unique, every story is new, and every story is original.

    Many newspapers already do this to some extend, but the quality of this work is drowned out by the noise of the senseless reporting, and news redistribution.

    But, it isn't enough to simply create news; you also have to move it out into the world. The old model of limiting news to a specific platform, via a specific application, in a specific format, is replaced by "original news" on every platform, in any format, in any application.

    Hint: How many big newspapers do you know who provides an RSS feed with the full text of the articles? They all demanding that you go to them to read their content.

  2. Create a personal news aggregator. The problem with having an infinite amount of sources is that it is overwhelming. There is a huge market for intelligent solutions to create personal newspapers, each of them tailored directly to each individual, each rating the articles based on your preferences, and each including just the news sources that are relevant to you.

    This market is already booming, but we have still only seen 1% of its full potential.

    The personal news aggregator is the newspaper of the future. Every single newspaper in the world should be pursuing this market as if their life depended on it (which it does).

    But, it is an entirely different beast. The newspapers don't get to decide what to include. They do not own the news. They do not own the experience.. It's is a tool, not a "production".

    Feedly is a good example of this. It is a personal news aggregator that present your personal news sources, combines that with other sources and topics that would go well with it. All controlled by you, and extended by the crowd.

  3. Create a value filter. Another big market is for companies and people to create "value filters," that finds the best and most valuable content within specific topics. With an infinite amount of news, we need people who can do the footwork, because it is impractical for us to do so ourselves.

    It's like having your own personal assistant, filtering out all the junk.

    Many companies are already venturing into this field, like SmartBrief who brings you a daily newsletter with just the best topics in different industries. Another one is Guy Kawasaki's Alltop that does the same, although in a much better way. Not only does Alltop find the good stuff, they also allow further filtering by giving you a personal Alltop channel. And you can then mix the filtered content with whatever personal news aggregator you happen to be using.

    BTW: Here is my personal Alltop channel.

You can either focus on each market in itself, or be really remarkable by mixing and combining them into a grander experience.

This is the future of news.

Back to the Tablet

Where does all this leave the tablet computer? Well, for one thing it won't save the old newspaper models.

We don't want to start a separate application to read the news from each specific news source. Despite, how fancy they make the application.

Tablet applications, like the one from Sports Illustrated, might delay the change for a short while, simply because they are distracting us with a shiny package. But it's a losing battle.

What we do want is a tablet with a personal news aggregator. An app that can elevate news from multiple sources. Something that gives you a more personal, in depth, and meaningful experience.

Think the "Sports Illustrated" app that isn't limited to "Sports illustrated." One that is tailored to each individual. One that combines news from all kinds of sources - including tweets from the players with commentators from "experts". One that gives you the pictures of the field, pictures taken by the fans, and pictures from the players "backstage". One that uses the power of the crowd, and the sharing of the crowd, to prioritize the content.

More important, one that doesn't result in a destination, but is merely a tool that you can tab into either directly or via other services.

BTW: This was what I tried to do with the 2009 Le Mans Tracker.

This is the future of newspapers on the tablet.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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