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At the frontline of the tablet revolution

Apple and publishers: A Faustian bargain

"Publishers are finally saying yes to Apple's terms because turns out their fear that Apple’s policies would deny them the consumer data they need to do business was unfounded".

So writes Jeff Bercovici on his Forbes-blog.

His post reminds me of two things, well three come to think of it.

First of all, to slightly rephrase Neil Postman:

"All new technology is a kind of Faustian bargain – you get a lot but you also lose something. It was true for the alphabet, for the printing press, for radio, for TV" – and it is true for Apple's iPad (from this video-interview)

In the case of Apple, publishers lose control, which perhaps isn't such a brave new thing because they already lost that with the web, with online publishing and social media – just in a different way.

Still, looking at this particular exercise in letting go of control, Adam looks at Apple's pop-up window that asks customers to share their personal data with publishers and concludes:

It's a pretty bland, factual pop-up, so it's not really giving people much incentive to click "Allow", really, is it? In fact, it very easily reads like you're accepting a dump of junk mail.

Now, I'm not sure how customisable that pop-up is (my guess is that it isn't), but surely if developers could find ways of incentivising people to accept earlier in the process, by highlighting the benefits of that data transfer on the subscription information page. Because there are benefits to the user from this, right…?

Which brings me to my third point, as this quote from Hearst Magazines announcing its new deal with Apple really made me pause:

"Our deal is fundamentally different from any other deal Apple has done with a publisher; we came to fair and equitable agreement that allows both parties to own customers together"

I do wonder how customers feel about the prospect of being co-owned by Hearst and Apple.

I understand the  business sense behind that statement, but it made me wonder if anyone remembers stuff like Day of the Longtail and the empowerment of the people formerly known as the audience?

I guess that must all have been forgotten in the iPad-age... and the people who prior to 2006 were the media's very own "cuddly coach-potatoes" preparing a revolt causing total disintermediation ... well, they must've gone back to being cuddly coach potatoes again (If my metaphors in this paragraph is lost on you, do watch Day of the Longtail here).  

I know of course, that some of the people who previously were at the front guard of the  Cluetrain-revolution, now are deeply involved in working for Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), working for solutions that would enable users to regain control over all the personal data they now have to leave with numerous different vendors.

So maybe the next question should be if there ever will come a time that VRM will gain the traction Cluetrain did, or if we have become sated, made complacent, by the new range of marvellously easy-to-use, well-designed devices that make our lives so much easier in so many ways...

... If we're on the road to surfing ourselves to death. I know, that's a really bad wordplay on Postman's classic title... but I do wonder ... Apple's iPad does seem to have caused a mentality-shift...

But perhaps that's just an inevitable step in the perennial "cycle", the succession of optimistic and open media, each of which in time, becomes a closed and controlled industry, Tim Wu talks about in "The Master Switch".

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here, and covering more than a decade of social media history while at it so forgive me if I don't explain all of my references sufficiently (perhaps in the morning I shall add more links).

For the record I should say that I have a rather pragmatic approach to Apple/Android/Linux/Microsoft etc. As it happens the only Apple-device in my household at the moment is an iPad, but it's one I've found very good use for: it has become integral  both to my media habits and to plain everyday habits (such as cooking).


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