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Philly Papers to Sell Android Tablets

CEO hopes to stimulate digital adoption
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Publishers, desperate to prop up their legacy print business, have been scrambling to put their content on tablet devices. Now the Philadelphia Inquirer and its sibling Philadelphia Daily News are making what may be the boldest tablet push yet. 

On July 11, the two papers plan to announce a pilot program under which they will sell Android tablets with their content already built in at a discount. Icons on the tablets' home screen will take users to digital replicas of both newspapers as well as a separate Inquirer app and Philly.com, the papers’ online hub.

The idea of giving away or selling devices has been widely discussed in the publishing industry, but the Philadelphia experiment seems to be the most aggressive push in that direction thus far.

Greg Osberg, CEO and publisher of the Philadelphia Media Network, the entity that includes the papers and Philly.com, believes the company is making history with the program, the cost for which he estimated will come in somewhere in six figures. The deal lets the Philadelphia papers keep all the revenue and the consumer data, though, which will give it a read on how people consume newspaper content on a tablet.

“No one in the U.S. has bundled the device with content,” Osberg said. “We want to gain significant market share in this area, and we want to learn about consumer behavior. Our goal is to be the most innovative media company in the United States.”

Pricing and device details haven’t been pinned down, but the idea is for the tablet and newspaper content combined to be half off their full retail price. (Right now, the papers’ digital editions each cost $2.99 a week.)

The tablet program is starting small: it’s slated to kick off with 2,000 tablets in the second half of August, with a fuller launch set for later in the year. The tablets also will sell advertising e-commerce units on the home screen. Down the road, Osberg said, the plan is to sell tablets with varying content built in to appeal to male, female and other specific audience groups.

Osberg, a former worldwide publisher of Newsweek, has made it his mission to speed the digital revolution at the Philly papers, which last year became the latest newspapers to go through bankruptcy. To that end, he’ll also be announcing an incubator program that’ll embed tech startups at the company to help it develop digital products. Later this fall, Philly.com will introduce paid, premium content on the site, and a hyperlocal news channel.

To promote cooperation across the three brands, he’s already created a breaking news desk that includes staffers from both papers and Philly.com. “There was too much competition in our own building,” he said.

The changes are extending to the print side, too. Under new editors appointed by Osberg, the Inquirer has been shifting its coverage to local news, while its tabloid counterpart will reposition itself with more of an irreverent voice on July 25.