Users have jeered the New York Times' main iPad app, but the newspaper is listening to one in particular: We hear Steve Jobs is among the app's most vociferous critics and has been shunning it.
Jobs clearly wanted to make access to the electronic Times a big selling point for Apple's tablet computer; the Apple CEO put the paper's website at the center of full-page magazine ads for the iPad, and even shared the stage at iPad's unveiling with a Times executive, who demoed a preliminary version of the paper's iPad software.
But Jobs doesn't like the limited app the Times came out with, called "NYT Editors' Choice," and his displeasure has been made known to senior Times Company executives, according to a source close to the paper. It has not been lost on said executives that Jobs and his underlings left the app in the shadows. Apple has not profiled NYT Editors' Choice within its app store, where it regularly showers special attention on "noteworthy" and "favorite" applications, assembles bundles of blessed apps with themes like "Music Creation" or "For Kids," and even names an "App of the Week."
In fact, NYT Editors' Choice was not even listed in the "News" section of the iPad app store for weeks after the device launched, we're told, although it has since been filed there. Talk about life as an orphan.
It's easy to imagine what Jobs hates about the app: It lacks much of the newspaper's content, even as said content is available free on nytimes.com. Users have reviewed the app with headlines like "Where's the content???," "No content," "Content?," "Wow... disappointed" and "is an upgrade with full content planned?" To be fair, there are some kind words like "Fantastic.... love this," but in aggregate the app has a rating of just 2.5 stars out of 5.
It's not entirely clear why the Times has not released a full-content iPad app yet, but we hear it's related to the newspaper's existing agreement for the Amazon Kindle, which apparently precludes the paper from releasing a cheaper, comparable e-edition on a competing tablet. Hence the non-comparable Editors' Choice app. The Times isn't alone on this; a number of other newspaper and book publishers are grappling with the same Kindle licensing issue.
But the Times' situation is complicated by the fact that it's simultaneously in the process of erecting a paywall around its website. Also, there's been disagreement within the paper on how to price the iPad edition.
Some Times Company executives want to charge $20 or $30 per month for an iPad edition so as not to cannibalize print subscriptions. If the Times went with that sort of pricing it could theoretically proceed with a full iPad edition now, since Times Kindle Edition is $20 per month, hiked from $15 just before the iPad's release. But at any price less than $30 the paper would have to explain why Kindle customers are paying roughly the same for their black-and-white copy as iPad owners pay for their colorful, video-enhanced copy. A full-color Kindle is in the works but there's no arrival date set.
The digital side of the Times, headed by Jobs' keynote guest Martin Nisenholtz, wants a price closer to $10 per month, which would require a re-jiggering of the Kindle contract, the Kindle price, or both.
And obviously the Times will want to coordinate the Kindle and iPad pricing decisions with its website pricing, which as far as we know is not yet set.
The Times Company politics around the iPad can be very disorienting. It's enough to make you wish the muckraking, free-speech-loving organization could have some of Jobs' hard-line dicatatorialism. Just enough to enter its digital future more profitably and auspiciously, at least.