There’d been rumours swirling for weeks; Branko Brkic and the team at the Daily Maverick were going to announce something big on Wednesday. And, true to the hype, they did; the creation of Africa’s first ever tablet-only newspaper, iMaverick (specifically for the iPad, but available too on Android and other devices). This was not the revolutionary bit; the sting was in the tail. Subscribers would be able to get content from the daily iMaverick for the not insignificant sum of R395 ($60) per month. This did, however, include a brand spanking new iPad 2.
My first though was: genius, pure genius. No one wants to pay for content in this age of “free” information, but no one minds paying huge sums for hardware. By bundling the two together, the media outlet gets the money it needs to run a decent operation, and the subscriber gets a nice shiny toy – which doubles as a damn good device for displaying news (as well as advertising). A tablet also does away with the need for printing and distribution – the two most significant costs for any newspaper.
Also, the novelty of the idea guarantees the kind of word of mouth advertising for the new paper that no kind of money can buy.
Tablet newspapers are the future for media in Africa. It seems outlandish now, when iPads and their ilk are still novelty items owned by the very rich. But just a few years ago, cellphones were thought to be incompatible with Africa, and just look at them now. For a long time, I’ve thought that some kind of cellphone newspaper was the way forward, because it’s easy to pay for things with cellphones; I’ve never been able to figure out how that would translate into a comprehensive publication. Tablets solve that problem, with their intuitive interface and superb graphics. Especially if connected to the cellphone billing system, rather than the clunky internet versions like paypal, then tablets will become the easiest way to extract money out of consumers. This will mean that the price of the hardware will fall significantly in the next few years; rather give loads of people an iPad and extract money from them for years than get just a few people to cough up a huge sum.
Media will swiftly graduate to this option, which is so much more sustainable than the internet alternatives. Particularly African media, who will use this as a way to subvert traditional media monopolies and regulatory systems. There’ll be a load of teething problems with this, of course; but it’s a lot harder for governments to stop publication when there’s no printing press to shut down. And the huge reduction in publishing costs will mean more money that can be spent on the journalists who generate the content, thereby helping to improve the quality of news coverage on the continent.
So, iMaverick; ahead of its time, and a glimpse of the future. I just hope there are enough people who want an iPad, and can afford the still expensive monthly subscription, to keep it going until the present catches up.
DISCLAIMER: I write occasionally for the Daily Maverick, iMaverick’s sister publication.