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March 2, 2011, 2 p.m.

Takeaways for journalists from today’s Apple announcement: Better reporting tools and an ebook boom

Apple’s Steve Jobs just left the stage after a surprise appearance to announce the new iPad 2. Check Engadget’s liveblog if you want to relive the whole event, but I noticed a few takeaways from it that I think will have an impact on the news business.

More evidence of an ebook boom

I’ve been trying to figure out if we hit an ebook tipping point at Christmas 2010, when Santa left lots of Kindles, iPads, and iPhones under a lot of different trees. You have the amazing numbers from indie author Amanda Hocking, who went from selling 164,000 books in 2010 (the vast majority ebooks) to selling 450,000 in January alone — almost all of them ebooks at 99-cent and $2.99 price points. You’ve got other evidence of big momentum in ebook sales, particularly among indie authors, a fair number of whom report selling 10,000 copies a month just for the Kindle.

To that we can add Jobs’ statement today that users of iBooks — at best the second biggest ebook platform, maybe even third behind the Nook — have downloaded 100 million books since launch in early April 2010.

It should be noted that downloads don’t equal sales — some portion of those 100 million were free books. But to put that total in context, in June, two months after launch, Jobs happily reported a total of 5 million downloads, which he said made for a 22 percent share of the ebook market. Going from 5 million in two months to 100 million in 11 is a pretty decent rate of increase. And that’s in a competitive environment where I suspect Apple is losing market share to the new cheaper Kindle and the well received Nook Color.

We’ve written about Kindle Singles and other models that allow news orgs to turn their journalism into longer-form content that can be sold — and take advantage of the purchasing platforms that Amazon and Apple have built so well into their devices. And the financial share isn’t that bad — 70/30 in most cases. Ebooks aren’t going to save journalism by any means, but I think by the end of this year, we’ll look back and see that for some companies it will be a small but welcome addition to the bottom line.

The iPad as an improved reporting tool

The iPad is a wonderful device for couches and beds. It’s been less great for getting work done — particularly the kind of app-hopping work that many journalists do. The primary reason is that the iPad 1 didn’t have enough RAM to consistently keep several web pages open at the same time. If you’re assembling writing a deadline story by shuffling between something in Gmail, four open webpages, plus the web entry of your CMS, the iPad’s memory would run out and force you to reload those pages — sometimes meaning you’d lose the work in progress on that CMS page.

The amount of RAM in iPad 2 wasn’t disclosed at today’s event, but the iPad’s competitors have generally been featuring 4x or more as iPad 1’s 256 MB. We’ll have to wait to see it on the actual device, but I’d wager that roadblock will go away.

Add in iMovie for iPad and the rear camera, and the iPad 2 also seems to be a pretty decent mobile multimedia center for reporters shooting on a scene somewhere, either stills or video. GarageBand might be nice for journos gathering audio in the field, too. Or at least killing time playing fake drums.

What wasn’t announced, unfortunately, were the four- and five-finger gestures for switching between apps that appeared in an earlier beta of iOS 4.3. Those, combined with the faster CPU of iPad 2, would make journalistic multitasking significantly faster and easier than the doubleclick-swipe-tap required now.

But in all, the iPad looks much closer to being a workable reporting setup than it was yesterday.

The continued power of Apple’s platform

Finally, while this iPad isn’t revolutionary, it answers its (generally more expensive) potential rivals quite well. Apple didn’t choose to hit a lower price point to really aim for market share, but nonetheless they’ll sell of a lot of these, and the iPad will still be the dominant tablet platform by a mile this fall (when rumors have a much improved iPad 3 of some sort coming out).

For news organizations, that means that, no matter how bummed you are by Apple’s 30-percent take on subscriptions, its App Store is going to remain the dominant way to reach your audience on a tablet form factor. Nothing today suggested reason to suspect weakness on Apple’s part. The prospects of rooting for an Android Honeycomb boom to counterbalance Apple’s market power took a hit today.

POSTED     March 2, 2011, 2 p.m.
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