Google and Apple go at it on the future of news

The war on the future of news reporting continues to find its place on the digital battleground with Apple and Murdoch signing on for a not-so-civil partnership. Google has been testing the waters in Italy with a pay-as-you-go paywall for some time now – but according to reports it has been stepping up its game against Apple, saying: “Hey, we’ve got mobile devices too!”

Google is doing the rounds trying to nick and create new partners for its own “digital newsstand,” reports the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal.  The WSJ suggests Google is “chasing Apple” which already has a slew of titles available for its costly thin rectangle, the iPad, but the truth is sales have been slipping over 2010. Both rags and mags were hit. 

Details of Google’s foray into the world of printed news are thin on the ground. In fact, some speaking to the WSJ have doubts it’ll appear at all. We’d be surprised. A monopoly on the news is a valuable thing and already publishers are chasing their own tails in search of extra hits from Google’s engine and that mysteriously coded algorithm behind news dot google. 

Apple is about to refurbish iTunes‘ back-end to give an enticing helping hand to publishers who have been on the fence about signing up.

It wants to make selling publications and subscriptions over iTunes easier while it will also discretely take in data about consumer buying habits. It wants to share purchase data about publisher’s apps and flog that on to the publishing houses themselves. It’ll have a 30 percent take on subscriptions. 

Whether Apple, Google or a seperate third party take the biscuit with wooing publishers one thing is for certain – it is dangerous territory. Publishers and editors must think of their readers first, and take a stand against the changing agenda of news as dictated by the pushers of products. You wouldn’t let a paper mill run its press releases on the front pages – so why Google, or Apple? 

Really, tablets are a means to an end. But many, including the Financial TImes’ web editor, don’t agree. Robert Shrimsley said late last year: “Apple’s power as a distributor is something we will have to get used to.”

It’s all about tablet computing, according to the manufacturers of tablet computers. They want you to believe it’s a tactile and fun way to read a newspaper without smudging ink over your fingers, and a fresh take on looking at the news. High definition photos, embedded video, etc.

Apple is, obviously, way ahead of the game with the success of the iPad but – as we’ve said before – every electronics manufacturer wants their slate in your home. 

There have been tests into reading habits on tablets and e-readers compared to books and papers. It turns out reading on a shiny, handheld screen marks well on enjoyment. But reading on a screen rather than paper has its downsides – the reader is more likely to scan paragraphs instead of letting it all sink in. Not a bad thing depending on your paper of choice.

Check out Leah Borromeo’s column for us in November 2010. She suggests that the case isn’t that there’s an Apple bias in the media, it’s that “Apple has managed to get the media to buy into the ideal of the Apple.” 

Is the iPad, or Google’s alternative Android offerings, or any other tablet, really the be all and end all of news publishing? Probably not. The internet still hasn’t killed the newspaper.

Or the film industry.

Or the music industry.

It has been something which must be adapted to and worked alongside traditional means and we imagine tablets will be no different. 

*EyeSee First spectacularly shameless plug of 2011 goes to the Wall Street Journal, which, ahem, slates the competition in one paragraph and whores itself in the next.

“Some companies already offer subscriptions through iTunes, but they have largely cobbled them together,” it begins. “Newsweek sells 12 and 24 week subscriptions to the iPad editiong, though Apple handles the transaction and Newsweek doesn’t know who the subscribers are.” 

“The Wall Street Journal sells iPad subscriptions for $3.99 a week.”