iDoubtIt

Apple will certainly have millions of folks lining up in March to buy its new iPad ($499 to $829), despite the fact it’s already getting hammered in reviews. And while it’s flattering that Steve Jobs featured the NGS website in today’s iPad unveiling (above), the big question for the Society is: Will millions — or even thousands — of people pay for cheetah pictures on this device?

Our prediction: No. But that’s because we think our Society’s problems are rooted less in the medium and more in the (wrong) message.

Meanwhile, The New York Times plans to give paywalls another shot, even though Dollars for Content still looks like a losing strategy. Case in point: Newsday recently spent $4 million to redesign and relaunch its website, which three months ago was placed behind a paywall. Today, Newsday has 35 paying online subscribers. That’s right: only 35. Something to ponder as you gaze at the screenshot, above.

We still believe the real value of National Geographic rests with its members, four million strong. Catalyze our crowd, and enable us to do together what we could never do alone — and there’s hope. Put another way: Make it social, and make it a Society again, and the particulars of the platform cease to matter. And while we’re encouraged that Robert Michael Murray, our Society’s VP for Social Media, recently told us that NG’s new Django-based web site “will add more social and community to the platform over the coming weeks/months,” we’re still waiting to hear the details.

We’re also starting to worry about what he means by “social”:

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≡  iPad image via Endgadget

  • Carto Joe

    Although the Times’ plan allows a certain amount of free viewing — so the theory is heavy users will be willing to pay — I also doubt it will work. However, I do see some opportunity for paid subscriptions to newspapers and magazines optimized for iPad. Web sites aren’t the same as publications, and I could see getting my newspapers and magazines this way. One of the magazines I subscribe to went digital, but I don’t look at it because there are too many steps to retrieving it, and my laptop is not a great device for reading. One that I can hold in my hand no matter where I am sitting or standing, with a great screen, would make a huge difference. So I think there’s still a chance people will pay for curated, well designed content, viewed on the right device and priced attractively (I think amazon is right about $10 books).

    • I see your point, but the Newsday case is haunting, don’t you think? They overhaul their site at great expense, put up a paywall… and nobody shows up at the turnstile.

      Re: iPad – I watch the video I posted some weeks ago here, and keep thinking the interface is the big sell, not the content. And soon enough, that interface will be as easy to deploy as a WordPress blog. You then have to argue that NGM content is so rich, so compelling, and so unique that people will pay to consume it. But the trend line there is grim: Since 1988, the Magazine circ has been going down, down, down. Whatever is on the page just isn’t cutting it anymore. Putting it on an iPad might make it look different… but not for long, as other folks will show up on the same platform, with the same cool visual effects, and serve up their own work for free.

      For the Society’s sake, I hope they can make this work. But in the end, they’re content producers (or content branders), not device manufacturers or pipeline owners, and the content is losing its appeal. Why does anyone seriously think we can fix a content problem by changing the platform?

      Thanks for writing, CJ.

  • Carto Joe

    Although the Times’ plan allows a certain amount of free viewing — so the theory is heavy users will be willing to pay — I also doubt it will work. However, I do see some opportunity for paid subscriptions to newspapers and magazines optimized for iPad. Web sites aren’t the same as publications, and I could see getting my newspapers and magazines this way. One of the magazines I subscribe to went digital, but I don’t look at it because there are too many steps to retrieving it, and my laptop is not a great device for reading. One that I can hold in my hand no matter where I am sitting or standing, with a great screen, would make a huge difference. So I think there’s still a chance people will pay for curated, well designed content, viewed on the right device and priced attractively (I think amazon is right about $10 books).

    • I see your point, but the Newsday case is haunting, don’t you think? They overhaul their site at great expense, put up a paywall… and nobody shows up at the turnstile.

      Re: iPad – I watch the video I posted some weeks ago here, and keep thinking the interface is the big sell, not the content. And soon enough, that interface will be as easy to deploy as a WordPress blog. You then have to argue that NGM content is so rich, so compelling, and so unique that people will pay to consume it. But the trend line there is grim: Since 1988, the Magazine circ has been going down, down, down. Whatever is on the page just isn’t cutting it anymore. Putting it on an iPad might make it look different… but not for long, as other folks will show up on the same platform, with the same cool visual effects, and serve up their own work for free.

      For the Society’s sake, I hope they can make this work. But in the end, they’re content producers (or content branders), not device manufacturers or pipeline owners, and the content is losing its appeal. Why does anyone seriously think we can fix a content problem by changing the platform?

      Thanks for writing, CJ.

  • Ted McDonald

    Funny thing is that Flash won’t work on the iPad, so neither will a lot of NG.com’s website. In fact, the flashy new NG homepage won’t even look like it did in Apple’s demo. Apple’s taken a screenshot of the current homepage and shown that on the screen instead of actually using the device to browse to the website. They’re finally starting to catch a little heat for this practice and rightfully so.

    • Great point, Ted. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Steve Jobs’ stage shows require sleight of hand.

      So if iPad can’t do Flash, where does that leave NG? Must they create specially formatted content for the iPad? Also: Any idea what HIgbert means (below)? If “it’s not beta” and “that’s not Flash,” then what is it? Just a screenshot?

      Thanks for stopping by… and for writing.

  • Ted McDonald

    Funny thing is that Flash won’t work on the iPad, so neither will a lot of NG.com’s website. In fact, the flashy new NG homepage won’t even look like it did in Apple’s demo. Apple’s taken a screenshot of the current homepage and shown that on the screen instead of actually using the device to browse to the website. They’re finally starting to catch a little heat for this practice and rightfully so.

    • Great point, Ted. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Steve Jobs’ stage shows require sleight of hand.

      So if iPad can’t do Flash, where does that leave NG? Must they create specially formatted content for the iPad? Also: Any idea what HIgbert means (below)? If “it’s not beta” and “that’s not Flash,” then what is it? Just a screenshot?

      Thanks for stopping by… and for writing.

  • Ethel Starbird

    So how did Steve access the beta site and get the flash slideshow to render to the iPad? Or was this demo pre scraped jpgs?

  • Ethel Starbird

    So how did Steve access the beta site and get the flash slideshow to render to the iPad? Or was this demo pre scraped jpgs?

  • Higbert

    @Ethel: It’s not beta–and that’s not Flash, which is why it works on the iPad.

    • Hmmm… if it’s not beta, and not Flash, then is Ted right — it’s just a screenshot? And: How will NG content play on the iPad?

  • Higbert

    @Ethel: It’s not beta–and that’s not Flash, which is why it works on the iPad.

    • Hmmm… if it’s not beta, and not Flash, then is Ted right — it’s just a screenshot? And: How will NG content play on the iPad?

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