What's Old Could Become New for Mac Tablet Publishers

Sometimes it can be comical when, on the eve of a new technology paradigm, those who stand to benefit the most run for the exits out of fear of the unknown.

Such is the case with those toiling in old media as Apple prepares to release its tablet, dragging publishers into the new media world.

As I await the Apple event out here in chilly San Francisco, I had a chance to consider the ruminations of columnist Michael Wolff's, who went off on Steve Jobs and team on our air yesterday, and again with a post today, deriding Apple, Jobs, the tablet, technology, the list goes on.

He claims the tablet won't be publishing's iSavior, but instead Apple will somehow consolidate its Draconian power over old media, in the same way Apple and Jobs took over digital music.

Wow, this is misguided thinking, and to me, represents the single best example of why so-called "old media" has remained old for so long.

Apple didn't invent digital music, but its iPod/iTunes ecosystem proved that the idea could work, and make everyone involved lots of money. Should Apple make a big chunk of that money? Absolutely. It built the better musical mousetrap, and no one forced the labels to embrace it. They realized what they faced and gave Jobs the keys to their kingdom so the kingdom wasn't obliterated by illegal downloads.

With the tablet, Jobs might be on the verge of doing it again.

Wolff and others cry foul that new hardware will not "save" them, but at the same time, exalt the virtues of the Kindle from Amazon and the myriad other e-readers on the market as a boon to book publishers.

McGraw-Hill, Meredith, Time-Warner, News Corp., The New York Times, Electronic Arts: they're all getting on board.

So why are the Luddites crawling out of the woodwork?

It appears that this isn't a rant against technology, but Apple technology.

Not a rant against innovation, but Steve Jobs.

I'm not going to sit here as Steve's defender. He certainly doesn't need my help. But here's the rub: Steve can be authoritarian, totalitarian, meglomaniacal, egotistical, aloof, nuts, a jerk. But who cares? Seriously. He's an ends-justifies-the-means kind of guy, Apple stock is near an all time high with $40 billion in cash in the bank, and the world's ear whenever it comes out with something new.

Publishers are dying a slow death. The printed word is hurting. Books. Magazines. Newspapers. They all live in, to borrow a Jobs phrase, a bag of hurt. So along comes a new platform, a new approach, and the potential of a new lease on life, and Wolff and others immediately dismiss it, even before we truly know what it is, or how these content creators will truly take advantage of it.

Will Jobs and team try to exert the same kind of control it had over music? Maybe. But it'll happen only if the publishers allow it. Apple and Jobs have a proven track record of not merely inventing, but reinventing: the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, iTunes, the App Store, consumer retailing. And now, very likely publishing.

We can subscribe to Wolff and others who look at new technology with a wary eye. I'm all for being careful. But in this case, an entire industry hangs in the balance, it needs help, and Apple might be the lifeline.

Listening to those criticizing Apple for offering up another mousetrap is almost laughable. If that's the approach they're taking, they should get back on their burros, ride home to their thatched huts, huddle around a smoldering fire and grunt and snort their favorite songs together. That of course assumes they thought fire was a good innovation.


Editor's Note: Jim will be LIVE BLOGGING beginning at 1pm/et from the Apple news conference.

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