Apps Cannibalise Newspaper Sales: Surprise to Anyone?

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News Corp head of European and Asian operations James Murdoch said (via Reuter’s) that iOS apps cannibalize print sales, much more so than newspaper websites do. Such a claim begs the question: Isn’t that what everyone expected would happen?

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is getting a lot of attention because of its decision to put a huge chunk of its online news content behind a paywall, an experiment which Mathew Ingram thinks is a total bust. Titles behind the paywall, including The Times of London, the Sunday Times and News of the World lost as much as 90 percent of their online readership since the paywall went up, though the remaining readership pays News Corp directly via subscription.

The elder Murdoch, News Corp’s CEO and James’ father, has publicly praised the iPad as a device that could potentially turn things around for news media. James Murdoch agrees, saying “We go to the iTunes store because it’s frictionless. They charge a percentage, but the guy on the newsstand and the newsagent charge a percentage, and they don’t even merchandise it properly.”

But apps, says James Murdoch, also have a problem: They steal readers away from print editions, more so than even websites with the exact same content. Of course they do. People like apps because they provide similar formatting to print editions, with greater interactivity, but without sacrificing portability and readability.

I may have missed something, but I thought the whole point of digital formats is to stop the overall subscriber hemorrhage many magazines and newspapers are experiencing by moving readers to a paid digital edition (as opposed to a free digital edition or another source entirely). Subscriber bleed from print to apps and digital editions isn’t a “problem.” It’s a sign that things are headed in the right direction. In the next few years, audiences will continue to abandon print media, that much is certain. Better that efforts to bring those publications into the age of mobile computing recapture portions of that audience then that they disappear altogether.

What do you think? Do you maintain subscriptions to both print and online editions of newspapers and other periodicals, and if so, why?

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