How We Move

Why tablet publishing doesn't synch up

Is The Daily the Heaven’s Gate of mobile? Not just expensive, but inexplicable. Not just a bomb, but an albatross.

In fact, you just paused for the briefest moment trying to remember what The Daily is—because you haven’t heard a word about it since its launch back in February.

It’s a product so full of bugs that it actually may be possible that there is no one who has successfully subscribed to it all—or at least who hasn’t given up on trying to download it before the morning commute.

But, even more bewildering, it’s a newspaper, or version of a newspaper, so aggressively bland that it seems to have jumped out of 1950s Wichita rather than the digital world.

In Los Angeles recently, I ran into Richard Johnson, the former New York Post Page Six editor, who made an abrupt and unlikely transition from mangy newsroom to anodyne tablet. He looked stupefied and lost—possibly the most hapless pilgrim from the old world in the new. It seemed obvious enough not to have to pretend otherwise: “What’s happened, Richard, for Chrissake? It’s dead on arrival!” I said.

“What? Yeah. Well...”

“It can’t last.”

“It’s just starting. And…could work…Could. They’ll keep it going.”

It is unfair, in a way, to single out the worst example of tablet strategy because there are many better examples and they don’t seem to be making any more impact than The Daily, either. The folks at MediaVest, the big media buying firm, recently declared that they’d no longer accept ad rates based on numbers that include tablet editions—believing that, in effect, they are worthless.

And yet, on the part of publishers, there is an Ahab-like or lemmings pursuit of tablet existence. After resisting Apple’s lopsided terms, almost all the major publishers are now agreeing to them.

It is one of those stark cultural divides. Everybody who makes his or her living in the digital world is skeptical if not utterly bemused about tablet publishing (or republishing); everybody from the print world, on the other hand, is charging off the cliff.

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