3 mins to read

Fairfax director sees limits to iPad’s impact

Now that he's on the board of Australasian media conglomerate Fairfax, Sam Morgan has to carefully weigh the impact of new technologies like the Apple iPad.Refreshingly, even though he's now moving in a corporate world, the Trade Me founder is still deliv

Chris Keall
Mon, 11 Oct 2010

Now that he’s on the board of Australasian media conglomerate Fairfax, Sam Morgan has to carefully weigh the impact of new technologies like the Apple iPad.

Refreshingly, even though he’s now moving in a corporate world, the Trade Me founder is still delivering a plainspoken take on events, avoiding mindless boosterism or company-speak.

In April, Mr Morgan offered this perspective on the iPad, in an exchange with the Science Media Centre’s Peter Griffin (originally published in Idealog):

PG: Will the Apple iPad save the print media?

SM: I think the fundamental problem they have is that there is just so much more media you’ve got access to. And barriers to entry are very low, you don’t have to own a printing press or employ many journalists, if any. So I don’t think it’s fundamentally changing that. It might provide them some additional revenue stream but who is going to buy a thousand dollar device and use that to read their newspaper? They already do that with their computer. I don’t think it will turn up on the newspaper P&Ls in a hurry.

Now that the iPad has been released, NBR was curious if Mr Morgan held the same opinion.

Over the weekend, Mr Morgan offered:

“I own an iPad. I still stand by my prior observations. My personal view is that the way we consume media is the biggest change vector. iPad's may well get huge and make up 5% of newspaper revenues, but a) that is a while away and b) it's still going to be just 5% or so.”

The Pacific Fibre co-founder said he relied on his laptop and mobile, but an iPad was nice to have.

Draw revenues away
“If everyone gets an iPad, my view is that it could just as likely accelerate revenues away from newspapers as it could grow revenues,” Mr Morgan said.

And, indeed, the iPad is leading his attention in new directions. Mr Morgan said he had become a big fan of Flipboard, an iPad app that serves a news-aggregator-come-social-media-portal, and was built from the ground up for Apple’s tablet.

Mr Morgan also likes Pulse, another app that aggregates news from multiple publishers, and makes it easy to share (The New York Times is one of many papers torn over whether to support the like of Pulse and Flipboard - not that it really has a lot of choice in the matter). And, like many, he’s also using Twitter to keep up with events.

Get on with it
But although he’s aware of the reality that many, like him, will tap start-ups Flipboard to read stories from multiple sources, he still wants to see traditional publishers sharpen up.

“Clearly newspapers need to get on with it and innovate on this new platform to be in the game,” Mr Morgan said.

Verdict on the Herald's iPad app
In Australia, Fairfax has released an iPad for the Sydney Morning Herald. In New Zealand, Stuff and other Fairfax online properties are still app-less, although country manager Bryan McCarthy has told staff that new mobile platforms like iPad will be an area of focus over the next year.

That leaves the NZ Herald as the only local newspaper customized for iPad at present.

“I think the NZ Herald app is great, but I stopped using it after a couple of weeks and now use the website. Think it [was] the delay-inducing ad at the start that made me do that,” Mr Morgan said. (The Herald’s app takes 30 to 40 seconds to load.)

The Herald’s Jeremy Rees recently told NBR that around 25,000 people had downloaded his newspaper’s app. More, that the Herald’s publisher was “committed to a paid solution” for the iPad app. If the Mercedes start-up video ad is not renewed when it expires in November, or replaced with an equivalent, then pay-per-view content will be considered.

Would Mr Morgan cough up?

“The NBR annoyed me enough* that I finally ended up paying. I suspect the NZ Herald could get me to pay too at some point through similar tactics. So long as their website has everything their iPad app does. I don't think I would, however.”

* Mr Morgan didn’t say, but your correspondent assumes the annoyance factor was his inability to read stories about his own companies placed behind the NBR online paywall.

Chris Keall
Mon, 11 Oct 2010
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
Fairfax director sees limits to iPad’s impact