Quentin Wray

Newspaper people love newspapers. It sounds trite but we love the way they look, their longevity, how they feel and how easy they make it for us – and our readers – to take on vast amounts of information in one sitting, with the ability to dive in and out of stories at will.

I believe the fact that newspapers are so good at what they do is why so many traditional media people resist digital media. Online media (they feel) robs us of our ability to tell our stories the way we want to and strips us of the wherewithal to guide our readers through the news in a way that makes sense, allows for context and can be monetised.

But this is as wrong-headed and short-sighted as those advocates of digital media who tell us that because digital gives us the ability to tell a constantly updated story as it unfolds across time zones, illustrating it with glorious pictures and adding video and sound, newspapers are in their death throes.

The truth of the matter is that there is still a place for good newspapers just as there is a role for all the new types of media. Any well-rounded consumer of news will use each format for what it is best suited to do.

This is why I am so excited about the advent of tablet computers. Tablet computers give us the ability to produce news in a way that well over a hundred years of experience has shown us works, while augmenting it with the best of what the new ways of telling stories can offer.

I believe that tablets can bridge the gap between the old and the new and, in the process, radically improve both.

At Independent Newspapers we have taken our first baby steps into this new realm with the launch of apps for each of the six titles that we produce in Gauteng: The Star, The Saturday Star, The Pretoria News, The Pretoria News Weekend, The Diamond Fields Advertiser and The Sunday Independent.

These are sold – yes, that’s right, sold – on the Apple iStore on either a single issue basis or through a discounted subscription offer.

They will all be available on Android soon and the company is working on a strategy to roll out apps for titles in our other regions too.

I have been blown away with the positive response that the apps have received, with the apps having been downloaded more than 34 000 times since we launched them. The Star app has become the second-highest-grossing of the South African-produced apps in the store.

The feedback that we have received has completely changed my views on whether people will or won’t pay for digital content.

We have found that people are perfectly willing to pay for something if they believe that they will get value out of it and if we make it relatively easy to do so.

We have also found that our obsession with providing bells and whistles is misplaced and that what people are looking for is, primarily, something that works and works consistently well.

Our apps are still very basic and there is still a lot of functionality that we want to add to them, but we are very excited about their potential.

As I tell my team, these apps combine the awesomeness of print with the power and convenience of digital – how can that be a bad thing?

l Wray is general manager of Independent Online (www.iol.co.za)