I've worried in print before about how the expectation of free content on the Internet undermines the quality of that content. Who will pay the investigative reporters, the journalists in foreign bureaus, the editors and fact-checkers who distinguish reliable information from Internet rumor and conspiracy theory? But the iPad provides me the first reason to hope. The very elegance of this technology may help to solve a serious challenge for the post-page and post-print information industry. I won't pay a monthly fee for a newspaper subscription on my Kindle because the interface is awkward, the experience flat and pale. I would be willing to pay a monthly fee for access to a great newspaper (like the one you are reading) on the vivid, touchable, multimedia iPad. If I actually had an iPad.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch recently observed, "I got a glimpse of the future last weekend with the Apple iPad. It is a wonderful thing. If you have less newspapers and more of these ... it may well be the saving of the newspaper industry." Why is that? Because, Murdoch argues, "Content is not just king, it is the emperor of all things electronic." Platforms such as the iPad would be "an empty vessel" without the creators of content.
So: We know that even bibliophiles like me will purchase books that arrive via the Internet because it represents a quantum leap in convenience. We know that people will consume both good and unreliable news on the Internet when it comes for free. Because of the iPad (and its eventual competitors), we will be able to test if people will pay for excellent news content delivered on a platform that multiplies its usefulness and enjoyment.
Those of us nostalgic for the book-based culture also will be nostalgic for ink on our fingers, the crinkle of thin pages, paperboys and papergirls and stopping the presses. But there really is no competition. Tablet computing makes a user feel like a maestro or a magician, summoning worlds with a touch. Prospero throws his books into the sea in order to abandon magic. A million people have done the same to embrace a new kind of magic.