Checking in: Newspapers on the iPad

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Yesterday during a News Corp earnings call, Rupert Murdoch was proud to share the fact that there are already 64,000 active users of the Wall Street Journal's iPad app (according to PaidContent). And, he added, News Corp gets to keep all the revenue on iPad subscriptions, as opposed to on the Amazon Kindle where Amazon and News Corp split the proceeds.

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While Murdoch is apparently happy, it's important to point out that this doesn't mean 64,000 people are paying for the Wall Street Journal on the iPad. I'm an active user but I don't pay; I just read the free content. You can access a lot of today's WSJ without a subscription (but issues from previous days are strictly subscriber only). Plus, if you subscribe to the web site or the print edition, you get the iPad content for free. Even if you don't subscribe you can at least scan headlines of all the content in the day's iPad issue. The only stumbling block for me is the price: $17.29/month. I'm voting with my wallet and hoping the price drops a bit.

Still, the WSJ app is a step in the right direction, and the Wall Street Journal seems to have made a good start at using the iPad as a new delivery mechanism. Contrast that with The New York Time's "Editor Choice" app. This app offers on average 10-15 articles each in five categories: News, Business, Technology, Opinion and Features. To the Times credit, you can read the full text of each of these articles, but you can't really rely on the app to know everything that's going on in the world. It's a nice primer for newspaper readers, I suppose. Editor's Choice is free and there's no way to pay for more content. I was really hoping I could get the Sunday Times delivered on my iPad (home delivery in my area is notoriously unreliable so the dead tree version is out of the question) so I've been disappointed in what The Times has to offer.

And apparently I've got company. According to Valleywag, Steve Jobs is also disappointed in what The Times has delivered to the iPad, and has made his disappointment known to "senior Times Company executives." That's an interesting match-up, right there. Does Jobs have the clout to throw around with Times execs at this point? If newspapers on the iPad take off, he'll have clout to spare soon.

Anyway, Valleywag suggests that the NY Time's contract with Amazon is to blame for the anemic iPad app, saying the agreement "apparently precludes the paper from releasing a cheaper, comparable e-edition on a competing tablet. Hence the non-comparable Editors' Choice app." Additionally there may be some internal dispute inside the Times over how much to charge, with the old-timers wanting to charge $20-$30/month in order to protect the print version, and others who realize the digital revolution has come and gone wanting something closer to $10/month. Descriptors in that last sentence are mine, just to be clear. I don't really know who's on what side of the debate.

Ironically I've got my wallet open for the Times and they can't, or won't, take my money, and the WSJ is eager to take my money but they don't offer what I want at a price that's palatable to me. So for now, I guess I'm back to heading to the local newsstand for my good old pulp newspaper.

And what's going on with that Wired app we saw last winter? Now that Apple has banished Flash, word is (via AllThingsDigital) that Conde Nast and Adobe is rebuilding the app in Objective C, so it's still coming. We just don't know when.

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