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Get ready for digital content delivery.

CONDE NAST, one of the world's largest publishing firms, decided this week that starting with Wired it will get all the content from its 18 magazines ready for digital delivery through the proposed Apple Tablet device. But here's the funny thingC* the Apple Tablet is, so far, just a rumour and no one even knows if it is going to be reality.

Conde Nast is not alone. The New York Times executive editor Bill Keller recently let it slip at a meeting with the company's senior editors that the newspaper must get ready for Apple's new device ( not in those words, but something to that effect).

So why is Conde Nast, a $ 5 billion company with some of the world's most successful magazine titles including Wired , The New Yorker , Vogue , Vanity Fair , GQ and Golf Digest and whose circulation numbers run into millions of copies around the world, getting ready for a machine that may not even see the light of day? Indeed, why is The New York Times , surely one of the world's most respected print news publications, getting ready for a machine that is only a myth? To answer that question, we must ask ourselves two other questions: One, how does news and information get delivered to us? Seriously, try and answer that. Newspapers? Check. Magazines? Check. Websites? Check.

Radio? Check. Television? Check. Mobile phones? Check.

Secondly, which medium do you spend the most time with assuming you are a professional who spends more than a third of the day at the workplace? Chances are, you will not reply " print". In fact, if we break our day into exactly those parts that we spend time with news media, a large majority among us would realise this: we spend the least time with newspapers and the most time with mobile phones and the internet followed by television and radio.

It is this trend that Conde Nast and The New York Times are worried about. Over the last year, Conde Nast closed down several print offerings on account of falling readership and revenue. The New York Times almost shut down The Boston Globe for the same reason. At the same time, their web readership grew by close to 40 per cent.

In India, though, newspaper circulation is rising. In fact, China and India showed the maximum growth in global newspaper circulation in the last three years. So should newspapers be worried about the digital onslaught? Unfortunately for readers such as you and me, the debate about the news media across the globe is concentrated on the medium. Instead, the debate should be centred around this singular question: " What is the best way the reader can access the information he needs?" This changes everything.

Newspaper circulation growth has been close to two digits for the past few years. But at the same time, India's mobile phone market registered double digit growth every month.

India's broadband internet connections grew 30- 40 per cent every year. Web- enabled smartphones grew at twice the rate of regular phones.

More than half of any telecom company's revenues are not generated from call charges or SMSes -- they are generated from what the industry calls Value Added Services, which includes local information, news, live cricket scores, web surfing, emails, and now even Twitter updates. As more content services are being enabled for mobile devices, readers will convert information into a mere commodity and the question will not be whether they are able to access that information, but what medium will that information be accessed from.

Over the last 15 years since the Web escaped the confines of academia and the military and became a public utility, media houses and advertisers ( upon whom the media houses depend to generate revenue) have been unable to find that Holy Grail -- a regime where advertising spends are rationally distributed across media thus enabling investments in new media where the maximum growth is taking place. For advertisers, status quo is the most comfortable position to adopt.

But things are changing.

Rupert Murdoch, the world's leading media magnate, announced a few weeks ago that his newspapers would charge for news online. Although they are not openly saying so, Conde Nast and The New York Times , along with a slew of other publications, are also implying that though readers will be able to access their products on the Apple Tablet ( or similar devices), they may have to pay for it.

Readers need not worry about spending more as this cost would be a fraction of the already low price they pay for the print product. Newspapers spend the most on raw material such as paper and ink, the actual printing and then on allied activities like the physical distribution of a copy to your home. Eliminate all or part of these expenditures and you have a digital information delivery system that is not only cost- effective, but can be updated through the day. Just as television.

The device for the digital delivery could be anything -- the BlackBerry, a Nokia N series or an E series phone, the Apple iPhone, the Amazon Kindle ereader, the Apple Tablet.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Nov 21, 2009
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