Philadelphia Media Network unveils digital tablet plan

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News building, 400 N. Broad Street. 5/10/06. (Michael S. Wirtz / Inquirer). EDITORS NOTE: PNIBID16P. On the day bids for the local parent of the Inquirer and Daily News are due, we list the know bidders and some background.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News building, 400 N. Broad Street. 5/10/06. (Michael S. Wirtz / Inquirer). EDITORS NOTE: PNIBID16P. On the day bids for the local parent of the Inquirer and Daily News are due, we list the know bidders and some background. (Michael S. Wirtz / Inquirer)
Posted: July 11, 2011

Philadelphia Media Network will soon start selling deeply discounted Android tablet computers packaged with four applications that will display digital versions of its two newspapers, The Inquirer and the Daily News, as well as additional content from The Inquirer and the company's Philly.com website.

In a meeting Monday morning with employees at the company's Conshohocken printing plant, Greg Osberg, chief executive officer and publisher, said the digital initiative would break ground in the industry, which has been struggling to maintain revenues as consumers gradually shift their reading preferences from print publications to computers, smartphones, and other digital devices.

And during an afternoon news conference, Osberg also announced a new media-technology incubator, to be housed at Philadelphia Media's headquarters and financed partly by a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to Ben Franklin Technology Partners, another participant in Project Liberty.

Osberg called the initiative unprecedented, and Donna Frisby-Greenwood of the Knight Foundation agreed.

Frisby-Greenwood said the foundation had spent $100 million in grants over the last four years to support media and journalism projects.

"This will be the first opportunity we have to incubate new technology within a media organization," she said.

Mark Block, Philadelphia Media's vice president of external affairs, said the discounted tablets were just part of a broader plan that the company calls its Project Liberty initiative, to be detailed at another meeting with staffers and at a news conference Monday afternoon.

"In terms of Philadelphia's status as one of the largest media markets in the United States, it only is expected that our company needs to provide digital products that will be received as unprecedented in the entire industry," Block said.

Tablets, which have soared in popularity since the April 2010 launch of the Apple iPad, are widely seen as presenting a new opportunity for the media industry. Although Block said Philadelphia Media would not announce the brand of tablets it plans to offer, tablets using Google's Android operating system perform similarly to the iPad, which measures about 71/2 by 101/2 inches and weighs about 11/2 pounds, and sell for $300 to $800.

Block also declined to discuss the company's financial projections for the initiative, expected to begin in the second half of August with the sale of about 2,000 tablets, followed by a full-scale launch later this year.

"There are still refinements being made to the product," Block said.

Block confirmed an account published Monday by AdWeek, which said that the arrangement would allow Philadelphia Media to have access to usage data that "will give it a read on how people consume newspaper content on a tablet."

Block said the discount would exceed 50 percent of the combined price of the apps and tablet, and would be available to digital subscribers who agreed to buy the bundle of apps for one or two years.

"No one in the U.S. has bundled the device with content," Osberg told AdWeek. "We want to gain significant market share in this area, and we want to learn about consumer behavior. Our goal is to be the most innovative media company in the United States."

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