Journalists are chronically confused about why people read newspapers. As Clayton Christensen has pointed out, the best way to understand product-market relationships is this: People don't buy products; they hire products to get specific jobs done.
One of the reasons people read newspapers involves the recycling of downtime. If you read a newspaper while eating lunch, you can entertain yourself while feeding yourself. Or perhaps you're using it to avoid people you really don't want to talk with. Or escape the uncomfortable feeling that you're dining alone in a crowded restaurant. Or whatever.
In any case, there's probably a very personal reason involved that is something quite different from "getting the news" and stepping up to your responsibility to be a well-informed citizen. Those are benefits, especially benefits to society, but they may be quite disconnected from the actual decision to pick up the newspaper and read it.
Which brings me to the iPhone. In a contest to serve any of these purposes, which one is going to win?
- A newspaper, whether it be the daily Bugle or the weekly Whining Alternative.
- Everything on the entire Internet, interactive and in color.
Easy: #2 is going to paste #1.
The point here is not to predict the ultimate victory of the iPhone over all forms of media. The iPhone is at this point a perfect product because it hasn't been sold and nobody has had a chance to discover the limitations and annoyances that inevitably come with real-world products.
The point is simply to illustrate why discussions of old-media business models such as charging for content are pointless. We are awash in a sea of new choices competing for our time and our attention. Some of these new choices are inherently superior solutions for some of the jobs for which print media used to be hired.