Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Who’s Joining Steve Jobs for the Tablet Launch Next Week?

steve_tabletNow that Apple’s tablet debut date is officially, officially confirmed (old news for All Things Digital readers), we can move on to the next round of speculation. For instance: Which media partners will Steve Jobs be working with when this thing launches?

There are lots of media companies anticipating the tablet–the entire magazine industry, for instance–and Apple (AAPL) will eventually want all of them on board. The wondertablet is supposed to be a showcase for media, after all.

But very few media companies seem to have any kind of real information about the device. And only a small number will have new stuff to show off at next week’s unveiling.

Like who? Here’s a starter list of likely and unlikely suspects:

  • The New York Times is a good bet. Executive Editor Bill Keller riled up the Web with a passing reference to an “impending Apple slate” in October, but wouldn’t say more. Last week, I asked Keller again about his paper’s Apple plans, and he stayed mum again. So did Martin Nisenholtz, the paper’s digital boss. “No comment” doesn’t equal “we’re cooking something up,” of course. And I’m not convinced that an Apple demo would be directly tied to an announcement about a new pay wall strategy, as New York Magazine speculated Sunday. But I do expect to see something from the New York Times (NYT) at next week’s launch.
  • Don’t expect much from the big music labels. Jobs courted Big Music when he opened up the iTunes store in 2003. But label sources I talked to this month said the company had only recently begun briefing them about the tablet, primarily as a “courtesy.” Recall that Apple already has the labels on board with the “iTunes LP” format, which would lend itself quite nicely to a tablet. One label official told me Apple has expressed an interest in selling higher-quality audio files via iTunes, and I’m sure the labels would be happy to do so if they can charge a premium for them. But that discussion doesn’t seem to be tethered to the tablet.
  • Do expect to hear about “enhanced e-books.” In the past, Jobs has been dismissive about dedicated e-readers like the Kindle from Amazon (AMZN) and reading in general–“people don’t read anymore.” He has apparently changed his mind about the latter opinion: The Wall Street Journal confirmed earlier stories yesterday with a report that News Corp.’s (NWS) HarperCollins is negotiating to bring some of its titles to the platform. Presumably other publishers–all of which are eager for viable Kindle competitors–want in, too.
  • Video? Duh. But who? The most obvious suspect here for an initial launch would be Disney (DIS) and its affiliates. In part because Jobs is both the company’s largest individual shareholder and a board member. But also because Disney CEO Bob Iger has made a point of trying out new digital distribution strategies. Here’s a nonstretch: Disney’s ESPN is already negotiating with Microsoft (MSFT) to bring some of its programming and games to the Xbox 360. What about something similar for the tablet? UPDATE: ESPN won’t be announcing anything in conjunction with Apple next week, says someone who knows.
  • Time Inc. won’t be there, according to people familiar with Time Warner’s publishing unit. The same likely applies to rival Conde Nast.

A crucial point here is that if the tablet works with the iTunes store–and it should–it is most likely that all of the Apple’s existing iTunes media partners will automatically be on the new device from the start whether Jobs showcases them next week or not. That is: If you can buy “Cars” and watch it on your Mac, iPhone or iPod, then you should be able to watch it on your tablet, too.

But we’re in pre-Apple announcement mode now, and simply porting old media to a new device just won’t sate our needs! So consider this report a work in progress, and a speculative one at that. I’ll be updating if and when anything new comes to light.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald