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For beleaguered media companies, iPad 'magic' looks a lot like a tollbooth

April 6, 2010 | 11:35 am

WSJ on iPad

Steve Jobs' "magical" iPad is about to work its mojo for the newspaper and magazine business. Hint: Apple's solution has less to do with conjuring illusions and more to do with hard economics.

To illustrate, the Wall Street Journal's iPad app is listed as free. That's enough to get most people, including cynical journalists, to download the app. But when the app is fired up, readers are greeted by what we'll call, tongue firmly in cheek, the reality screen (see screen shot above).

The subtext is clear: Content isn't free to produce, so pay up if you want to read any of it. At least that's the version Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns the Journal, is proselytizing. For the Journal on the iPad, that will be $3.99 a week, please.

Time on iPad It's a view being shared by more and more media companies, including Time Warner, the publishers of Time magazine, which charges $4.99 for a digital copy of its weekly magazine, which coincidentally features Jobs on the cover of its maiden issue for the iPad (see right).

The iPad version of Time delivers some of the features talked about in the Sports Illustrated tablet demo video that's made the rounds within publishing circles, including embedded videos and interactive photo slide shows.

Not everyone's going down the pay path, at least for now. USA Today, NPR, BBC, Associated Press and Reuters, among others, still serve up news for iPad gratis. The New York Times, as with the Web version, offers some stories, called Editor's Choice, for free, but charges readers for deeper access to its stories.

The Los Angeles Times currently has an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but not the iPad. Instead, readers can access the Times, most of it for free, via the iPad's We browser, said Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan.

"We’re looking at optimizing our digital delivery channels for both the iPad and a number other interesting mobile platforms coming down the line," Sullivan said.

Will the iPad offer salvation for the publishing business? The way things are going, it's going to need all the magic Apple can muster.

-- Alex Pham

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