If the iPad successfully convinces people to start paying for digital news, on tablet devices and smart phones, that actually introduces a new challenge for the news media:
When the Apple App Store or the Android Market is your newsstand, you’re in competition with everyone.
You can no longer rely on it being harder for readers to get hold of newspapers from outside the area or country they live in. They’re all there, right next to each other: Almost every newspaper in the world. Local news still hold the advantage of being more relevant, and there’s still a language barrier, but for readers who are interested in non-local news, there are a lot more sources to choose from. Good sources. The best.
Didn’t the web already do this? Yes and no. The web places everyone in competition with everyone, but it never replaced the newspaper habit. It introduced a new habit of its own, a new and more casual way of reading news. It replaced some of the time people spent on reading newspapers, but not the habit itself, the daily ritual of “sitting down to read today’s newspapers”. Which is what the news media now hopes to do through apps.
And if they succeed, the world’s newspaper editors had better hope they’re all making a really fine newspaper, a newspaper people genuinely want to read, and that they haven’t survived this far merely on inertia, prestige, and state subsidies. Most of Norway’s newspapers, at least, start with a handicap in this respect.