Still think iPad is the future of publishing? Philly papers offer cheap Android tablets to subscribers

The withering newspaper and magazine industries began to gravitate toward Apple's iPad as a possible anchor publishing outlet last year, but a pair of Philadelphia newspapers are taking a different approach and bundling cheap Android tablets with a subscription.

Last year, Conde Nast's Wired showed off an impressive iPad-optimized version of its magazine, and News Corp released The Daily, a subscription magazine designed from scratch for consumption on the iPad. These major ventures didn't simply re-format existent content for the iPad, but rather designed their content around the tablet itself.

The major hindrance here is that readers have to already own an iPad to get a subscription, so the audience will always be measured as a subset of iPad owners.

So the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are taking an approach to distribution more similar to mobile phone companies. When a customer subscribes to a digital edition of one of these papers, they will get an Android tablet at as much as 50% off of its retail price.

This way, they are subscribers first and tablet owners second.

According to an Adweek story, Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, expects to run a pilot program in the second half of August where it will distribute 2,000 Android tablets at a discounted price with a $2.99 per week subscription to one of the publications. The program is part of a wider-flung initiative to modernize the Philadelphia media group after going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

A newspaper-subsidized Android tablet would be similar to the 2009 programs tested by the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post to offer subsidized Kindle DX e-readers with newspaper subscriptions. Though those programs weren't breakthrough successes, Amazon's recent Kindle with Special Offers proves that users are willing to subject themselves to advertisements in exchange for cheaper hardware. In just a single month, the Kindle with Special Offers --which is cheaper than other models because it runs advertisements on its homescreen-- became the best-selling of all Amazon's e-readers.

We await statements from the Philadelphia Media Network and will update this story when the company gives us more information about the program.

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