Double Dipping

Marco Arment:

Consumers have tolerated double-dipping — products that cost customers money and have ads — for over a century. It doesn’t feel as offensive in contexts that have always had it, such as printed newspapers and magazines, or cable TV.

But ads shoved into a non-free iPad or web publication feel wrong to me.

Arment gets how things should be, but I doubt we’ll ever see anything of the sort in the near future from historically print driven publications. Publishers like Conde Nast (the New Yorkers parent publishing house) or newspaper organizations just aren’t operating at the scale necessary to maintain ad free magazines or papers driven instead by per issue or subscription revenue. They are simply too large as organizations.

Ads have already been the main source of income for most publications for decades, making it hard to shift gears into the digital realm with a new business model. The issue isn’t that there aren’t enough people willing to pay $4.99 an issue or more for quality content. The problem is that there just aren’t enough people, even if there were hundreds of thousands of them, to sustain corporations that employ thousands of people, sometimes around the world, trying to publish both digital and print publications that require massive overheads(especially with print or publications with a large journalist team). Not to mention that the success of some publications may insure the survival of other publications from the same house. The per issue cost of the New Yorker may be enough to maintain itself, but who’s to say that the ad revenue is what ensures the survival of some of Conde Nast’s other digital offerings.

All this to say that I’m not optimistic on the chances of say, the New York Times, dropping ads from its digital subscriptions. However, I am more optimistic that a great iPad magazine can rise from the ashes of print by a website like Ars Technica, who’s operations costs are already geared towards an online only model. I would expect such online publications as The Verge or The Huffington Post to be the ones driving innovation on iPad publishing, not the Wall Street Journal. If anything, online journalism has shown that a news organization doesn’t have to cover all news on all subjects to be successful. There’s plenty of money to be made delivering specific and focused news to a discerning audience that will flock to whatever interests them. That is how most of us get our news today. The potential is massive for whoever wants to bring that paradigm over to digital print.