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Murdoch promises WSJ on the iPad

Like a web page, only more expensive

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Murdoch has admitted that the Wall Street Journal is working on an iPad version, while Penguin has been demonstrating how the iPad can take content back to 1993.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of the WSJ, has been telling people that the newspaper has an iPad in the building, and is already porting content to Apple's latest baby. Meanwhile Penguin CEO John Makinson has been showing off titles as they might appear on the iPad, with interactive elements and embedded media in a style hugely reminiscent of the CD-ROM's launch, back when that medium was going to change the world.

According to Rupert Murdoch the WSJ only has one iPad, which is locked up by Apple every night, but that's obviously enough for the paper to have paid content available on the iPad at launch.

Penguin probably won't make the launch, but has much bigger plans than just reformatting existing content. In a video demonstration at the FT's Digital Media & Broadcasting Conference, recorded by PaidContent, Makinson shows how children's characters such as Spot the dog can be multimedia enabled, while a Dorling Kindersley title can have video of a beating heart embedded and available at a touch:

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the paintbrush follows the finger when it's not touching the screen, something the iPad can't do, so it seems Penguin doesn't have the same early access as the WSJ. But nitpicking aside all of this will be strikingly familiar to anyone who rushed out and bought a Multimedia PC back in the 90s so they could experience the same thing on a computer screen. Back then CD-ROM was touted as "redefining the book" and "changing the way people read". Only it didn't.

Multimedia PC Logo

It's amazing how quickly the novelty of video-embedded encyclopaedias faded

But there is a reason why the experiences are similar - both mediums required the reader (or user) to pay for the content, unlike a web site which must be financed through advertising or some sort of subscription. The iPad (with iTunes) opens up the opportunity to sell web sites, and that's what has Penguin, and the WSJ, so excited.

"The iPad represents the first real opportunity to create a paid distribution model that will be attractive to consumers," Makinson told attendees. "The .epub format ... is designed to support traditional narrative text ... So for the time being at least we’ll be creating a lot of our content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than in ebooks. The definition of the book itself is up for grabs."

The problem of how to make people pay for web content has plagued the internet since its commercialisation, resulting in a whole generation that has become used to getting everything for free. But by providing an easy-to-use payment gateway (iTunes) Apple is changing that, and if publishers can get the public to think of their content as "applications" rather than "web pages" then they might just pay for them.

That model is already working for the WSJ on the iPhone, so the iPad is an obvious extension to that, but Penguin is going a couple of steps further and betting that anyone who'd pay $2 for the sound of a fart would cough up a few quid for an interactive copy of Pride and Prejudice*.

* We'd prefer more zombies than videos of Keira Knightly and Colin Firth, but that's a personal preference. ®

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