Publishers Vs. The iPad: Something's Missing

While reading today’s story in the Times about publishers angry with Apple’s refusal to create a subscription option for their iPad apps, I was struck more by what was missing from the article than what was in it. The reporter certainly did his homework when it came to polling publishers on their frustration with Apple, but he entirely failed to show Apple’s side of the subscription battle.

Why is Apple holding out? Is it pure greed, as is being suggested? Or is it something else? Think about this little nugget, which comes halfway through the piece, sandwiched in between one publisher dreaming of the day when the iPad has to compete with other tablets and another drooling over the iPad’s potential: 

“One publisher that seems to have been granted favoured-nation status is the News Corporation, which is developing The Daily, an original iPad newspaper. The Daily will be sold through Apple as a recurring subscription, meaning subscribers will be automatically billed a small fee — expected to be about $1 a week — to receive the publication on their iPads every day. The development of the subscription software was said to be the reason The Daily’s debut was pushed back.”

Wait. Now, you’re saying Apple IS willing to partner with publishers in building subscription technology, it’s just not willing to partner yet with ALL publishers. This paints all of the previous publishers’ griping in a different light. It starts to sound a little sour grapes. Also, the delay implies that the issue is as much a technological issue as it is money issue. This is not a small point. There’s a good reason why magazines haven’t created their own payment system: It’s damn hard. 

So what’s going on here? Reading between the lines, I see a bunch of publishers who failed to make the deal that Rupert Murdoch did. Why? That’s the story I want to read. What did Rupert Murdoch offer Steve Jobs and company that other publishers did not? Is Murdoch sharing the cost of developing the subscription technology?

The real question is why is Apple keeping some publishers at arms length while taking a gamble on Murdoch’s creation. Could it be that they want to work with a publisher who’s as willing to gamble on Apple, as Apple is willing to gamble on them? That makes sense to me. 

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