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On the Media: Will computer tablets help save newspapers?

In the fragmenting media landscape, a Philadelphia publisher embarks on a bold experiment.

October 29, 2011|James Rainey

At least one other news provider, Tribune Co., appears ready to offer its own tablet. The company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, expects to come out with a device and news package in 2012. The company has not yet revealed details. (Some publishers are also looking at pay "walls" on their standard websites as yet another revenue source.)

A couple of media analysts and investors I spoke to lauded efforts to get into the burgeoning tablet market. But the experts suggested that news companies, rather than start from scratch, would be better served by developing compelling applications and placing them on tablets already being sold by big, established companies, like the iPad, Kindle's Fire or Barnes and Nobles' Nook.

News Corp.'s the Daily has tried the premium content approach, though it's only attracted about a quarter of the users it needs to turn a profit on the tablet-specific site. Downloads of the New York Times' iPad app have been strong. And a free British commuter paper, Metro, recently drew 155,000 downloads in just 11 days with a splashy, celebrity-heavy variation on the theme.

"If you are offering your own, proprietary tablet from some company people never heard of, you are fighting the market. Nobody wins by fighting the market," said Alan Mutter, a San Francisco-based media and tech analyst. "You should be publishing to tablets and platforms everyone is already buying, then leveraging that by creating dazzling applications that demand attention." The Philadelphia execs said they prefer to have control of their product and any proceeds that come from it.

As always, the devil is in the details. But it's a rare pleasure to report on experimentation in this most conservative of industries, newspapering. May 1,000 tablets, or apps, bloom.

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Thank you: After more than three years, this is my last On the Media column. I will continue to cover the media beat but the editors have asked me to focus on longer investigations, analysis, profiles and breaking news. I'm looking forward to taking those deeper dives into journalism and culture. Thanks for the many emails — some offering bouquets, others lumps of coal — that kept me in nervous anticipation each time I hit the "send" key on another column.

james.rainey@latimes.com

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