Can the Apple iPad save 'print' publishing?

Condé Nast is moving full steam ahead with iPad versions of its most glittery magazine titles, but Cringely fears this may be too little, too late

It seems Condé Nast is embracing the Apple iPad as its one and true savior. Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, GQ, Glamour, and Wired are all getting gussied up for Apple's WonderPad, according to the New York Times. Hey if you're gonna do it, might as well start with the best.

I say, more power to them. If anyone can create a digital marketplace for a dying industry that has consumed much of my working life, it's the Conde Nasties. But I fear the ship for most publications may have already sailed. It may simply be too late -- because people are too used to getting subpar content for free.

[ InfoWorld's Paul Venezia takes a more balanced look at Cupertino's latest buzz generator in "What the Apple iPad really is." | Check out Galen Gruman's rundown of the iPad questions Apple won't answer. ]

(Now I'm going to take off my geek hat and put on my editorial chapeau. Please talk amongst yourselves while I slip into something even grungier.)

Here's the nasty little secret most publishers would rather you not know: Their online versions aren't nearly as good as their print versions. The reasons are pretty obvious.

The premium rates publications charge(d) for print advertising subsidized a great many things -- like teams of researchers, fact checkers, copy editors, and multiple line editors -- that online ad models simply don't support. So the very first thing that goes when a publication moves online is quality control. When faced with producing lesser-quality content or no content at all, that's an easy call to make.

Meanwhile, in the print world, you more or less had a fixed amount of copy you had to produce to satisfy your readers each day, week, or month. Online, though, the need for new copy converges on infinity. It's a hole that can never be filled. Publications are under intense pressure to produce more stories with fewer people, which is why so many of them moved to a blogging model, generating simple stories that can be produced quickly by a single person without a lot of oversight. (And sometimes that can really come back to bite you.)

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