today's NYT proposes to invent an iTunes for news. the main reason behind this is that iTunes was the first successful attempt to make money from selling music online. so as a logical model to deal with the news media's struggle to move on to the digital age, it would be nice to have the same happening for news.
in theory, that's true, because every content provider would like to start getting a better idea of how to survive in the Internet era. but apart from that general goal, i think the article misses three major points:
- market fragmentation: the music market has a few really big players, and if you get those on board, you have covered the vast majority of the market. news content is much more fragmented, so getting everybody into the same boat is much more difficult.
- front-end: iTunes is sort of ok, but in fact it is pretty crappy as a piece of software. the interesting parts are the content, and the iPods. my theory is that the iTunes ecosystem actually succeeded instead of iTunes the software. but
playingnews is quite a bit more complicated than playing a piece of music (unless of course apple finally introduces the macbook wheel), and based on all the visible activities in the ebook market, nobody so far is really interested in working towards an open and flexible ebook device; the only thing that happens is big players building their own walled gardens such as amazon or sony.
- content complexity: music is convenient because it has almost no structure and requires no layout. news layout is considerably more difficult, so coming up with a flexible way of delivering news content is not trivial. i would still argue that HTML/CSS is close to being good enough for ebooks, and that anybody being serious about an open ecosystem for content on ebook devices should take the lead and close the remaining gaps.
so i am still hoping for something to happen in that space, but i am afraid the monopolistic model will not be it. a while ago there were some rumors about new hardware for a news-oriented ebook device, but to me that looked like another approach to build a walled garden; and as long as providers are just thinking about verticals, they are missing out on the long tail, which, in particular for news, is very long, and there is almost nothing else but it.
news content is far more complicated to deal with, both in terms of the content itself, as also in terms of the much more fragmented landscape of content providers. just asking for steve jobs to please step in may not be the most promising way to go.