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Of tea leaves and tablets

By Christopher Breen
January 8, 2010 09:58 AM ET

Macworld - When tablet-sized rumors take hold, the wondering and speculation begin. While others ponder the physical characteristics of such a slice of Apple magic, my mind wanders to intriguing ideas of What It May All Mean. Those ideas include:

True or false: iPod is to music industry as Tablet is to publishing

You don't need to work in my business to know that publishing is in a world of hurt. Newspapers and magazines are cutting staff or closing down due to declining readerships and the loss of advertisers. Book publishers, also losing readers, bank on high-priced blockbusters, franchise publications, and dashed-off tell-all books, and take fewer risks with unknown authors.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see parallels between the music industry pre-iPod and publishing today. Before the iPod, the music industry was in disarray--CD sales plummeting due to piracy (and lack of interest in the artists of the day) and executives who thought prosecution of peer-to-peer sites would cram the genie back in the bottle.

Publishers are looking for a way forward and a device that handles e-publication smartly--from discovery to subscription to delivery to presentation--and makes reading cool again may be that way. The Kindle and Nook aren't it. Like MP3 players that existed before the iPod, they're only an indication that it can be done. One of The Tablet's goals may be to demonstrate how it's done.

How desirous is Apple for control?

Our own Jason Snell admirably addressed this question in Does Apple Really Want to Sell Magazines? In it he sees two scenarios. In the first, Apple offers printed matter directly from the iTunes Store, just as it now offers music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, and iPhone apps. In the second, Apple sells the devices necessary to run third-party apps that read (and possibly obtain) that printed matter.

He hopes for the latter, and perhaps publishers do as well. But, from Apple's perspective, there's a lot to be said for the former, particularly when you consider advertising's influence on the model.

As revealed by the Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher, Apple has bought Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising company. What does Apple need with a company that pushes online ads? Suppose Apple representatives waltz into the offices of A Major Metropolitan Newspaper and offer this deal:

"We'd like to make an arrangement where we publish a version of your fine newspaper on an unspecified number of devices, which may or may not exist. Give it to us in a particular format and we'll take care of the conversion. For that we'll take a small percentage of the subscription price.

Originally published on www.macworld.com. Click here to read the original story.
Reprinted with permission from Macworld.com. Story copyright 2012 Mac Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.
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