Papers usher in brand-news era with discounted computers for readers

Greg Osberg, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Network, with Mayor Nutter looking on (third from right), discusses plan to sell Android computers to readers.
Greg Osberg, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Network, with Mayor Nutter looking on (third from right), discusses plan to sell Android computers to readers. (Associated Press)
Posted: July 12, 2011

Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the Daily News, Inquirer and Philly.com, announced yesterday that it would offer cut-rate Android tablet computers to long-term digital subscribers as it searches for new ways to boost advertising revenue and reverse declining circulation.

"We are making history," chief executive officer Greg Osberg told employees yesterday at the Academy of Natural Sciences, ahead of a news conference formally announcing the initiative.

The tablets, which will be loaded with a Philly.com application and an Inquirer app that are being developed, will also display digital editions of both newspapers. The package will cost about half of what readers would pay if they bought the tablet and four digital products separately, company officials said.

The first batch of 2,000 tablets will be sold late next month, with a full rollout expected by Black Friday if the initial launch is successful.

"No one has done this before," Osberg said. "People are talking about it. Let them keep talking. We're the first company to do it."

Osberg was asked twice whether PMN's digital push is the latest sign that newspapers are dying; he said that would be up to readers. But, he told employees, there are no immediate plans to stop printing either newspaper.

"What we're trying to do is learn what the consumer's preference is," he said. "A lot of people ask me, 'How much longer do you think that newspapers will exist?' I don't have the answer to that. Nobody has the answer to that. The consumer ultimately will determine that."

Philadelphia Media also gave a sneak preview of the July 25 relaunch of the Daily News, as the company seeks to differentiate the irreverent tabloid on the ground floor of 400 North Broad St. from the broadsheet Inquirer upstairs while continuing to collaborate on breaking news.

Osberg was joined at the news conference by Mayor Nutter and representatives from Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Knight Foundation, Drexel University and DreamIt Ventures to announce the formation of the Project Liberty technology incubator, in which PMN will house and assist local digital-media start-up companies.

"Technology and digital ideas have been part of the hallmark of Philadelphia and certainly will continue into the 21st century," Nutter said, adding, "This becomes one additional bright spot."

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