The web is all abuzz with thoughts, dreams and excitement about Apple’s soon-to-be-unveiled tablet, the iSlate (or iTablet, or whatever the hell Steve Jobs wants to call the thing.) Newspaper Death Watch has a nice starting point and roundup of some of the action surrounding Apple’s planned Jan. 26 press announcement. More than one person seems to believe that the new tablet might be a game-changing event for not just publishing, but for media in general. While I’m not quite that optimistic, primarily due to the sure-to-be exorbitant price that will keep these devices from being household items for quite a while yet, Apple does makes some pretty cool stuff that has had a sizable impact on their respective markets.
The computers themselves are far, far superior to anything else out there. Whether that’s due to the hardware, the software or some combintion thereof, I’m not sure. Of course, when compared to Windows, it’s kind of difficult not to be far, far superior. The iPod revolutionized how the music consumer goes about acquiring, listening and storing music. The iPhone changed the expectations we all had for the uses of a cell phone and communication in general. The iPod Touch is a damned cool little device. I’m certain that whatever this new entry might be, it’ll alter the landscape for technology and what we expect as consumers from that point forward. But will this be the savior for publishing?
Yes and no. And to explain that, let’s look at the iPod and what it has done for the music industry. The iPod unquestionably has helped usher in an age of digital music free from the hindrances of cassettes, vinyl or CDs. It has helped open the channels of distribution of music far beyond the controls of the few major industry players. This age allows far more musicians to earn a comfortable living from their music without relying on the corporate bohemoths, something that generally wasn’t possible in earlier times. So, yes, for musicians and the industry on the whole, the iPod and resulting upheavel has been a good thing. But if you are one of the previous dominant, monopolistic players, it has been anything but. In fact, if you recall, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to allow their catalogs to be sold on the iTunes music store in the first place. And with good reason. For them, these changes have signaled a loss of control over the channels of distribution, the means by which they made their profits. So the iPod was good for consumers, good for musicians, good for smaller, more innovative companies, and not so good for monoplistic superpowers. Think there’s a parallel here?
The Publishing industry, at least the monopolistic legacy superpowers, have traditionally made their exorbitanat profits through capitalizing on their dominance over information distribution. As that dominance has flagged over the past few years, their profits have dried up. If the iSlate has an impact anywhere close to that of the iPod on the muisc industry, these legacy players may be taking their last breaths. That’s not to say that money can’t be made; it undoubtedly can. But the legacy players have been virtual monopolies for so long now that I doubt they even know how to compete anymore. Plus, as the iPod has made it more difficult to make big bucks from lousy music, this new iSlate could possibly put all the emphasis on top qaulity content. How much top quality content do you see coming out of legacy media these days? And how, exactly, will they develop some having already gutted their content creation employee base and devalued their own products through cost-cutting?
Personally, I’m excited to check out this new venture from Apple. I think it may be the opening salvo in rejuvenating the fading publishing industry, and it could be a driving force to opening up doors for people like me. But if I were a legacy media executive, I’d be very afraid.