NY Post iPad Policy: A Real Threat to the Web

Written by Jason Grigsby on

Another big story yesterday was the fact that the NY Post is no longer letting iPad users access their web site and is instead forcing them to pay for an iPad app to read content. This has been one of my biggest fears for the future of the web.

The contributions that the web has made to the our collective knowledge are so large that they can’t be measured. It is this collective knowledge that I fear losing.

I am not a subscriber of the New York Times. On occasion, I am told that there is a good article in the New York Times that I should read.

Before the web, it is unlikely that I would have known about the article. If I did hear about it, then I would have to find a store that carried the New York Times and go buy it. Good luck finding the back issue of the newspaper if I heard about it the following day or week.

Today, I can simply follow the link and read the article for free. Removing the friction of physical distrubtion and having this information freely available is a tremendous boon to people everywhere.

John Gruber writes that the NY Post’s iPad policy “is a bad idea, and likely doomed to failure, but it shows just how problematic the web is, financially, for traditional newspapers.” There’s the rub.

All of this online knowledge that helps humans across the globe, but we’ve still not found a way to make it financially viable on the web. That is worrisome.

The promise for years was that there would be some sort of micropayment system that would help ensure a frictionless way to consume content on the web while ensuring authors and publishers got paid, but that promise hasn’t been realized.

I doubt that iPad apps are the savior for the publishing industry. But we do know that they have some things going for them that the web doesn’t including more reader engagement and easier payments.

Why shouldn’t more publishers follow the NY Post’s lead and drive people to their apps? In fact, if the web is losing money, at some point why wouldn’t they just stop publishing to the web at all and instead keep all the content inside the app.

I’m not opposed to paying for content. In fact, I want to do so, but subscribing to a newspaper that I only read one or two articles a month from doesn’t make sense. And that problem is amplified when articles are only available via an app that must be downloaded, installed and a subscription purchased.

The first time I read about the Financial Times success on the iPad and their pay wall, I wondered if our days of serendipitously finding useful articles will soon end. I don’t know how realistic these fears are, but I find it difficult to dismiss them.

Jason Grigsby

Jason Grigsby is one of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Mobile Portland and Responsive Field Day. He is the author of Progressive Web Apps from A Book Apart. Follow him at @grigs.

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Your “before the web” story is missing the business case that might hold water now, the library. Before the web, if you wanted to read a specific article in a specific newspaper issue, the library was the best (and possibly only) place to do so.

The idea of a content proxy for magazines and newspapers to reach consumers is still valid, although altruism and public good won’t be the motivators. Apple seems ready to fill that role, as they have with music and video, although this content will be a lot less profitable.

A company like Flipboard could also proxy content and charge its users for subscriptions in addition to their free content.

Regardless, you’re right, the days of free flowing content discovery seem to be numbered.

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