Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Will Tribune readers take to free tablet?

I’m old enough to remember the days when subscribing to a year’s worth of Sports Illustrated magazine would get you the added bonus of a football phone.

It was the plus meant to encourage you to take on a subscription (at 65 percent off the newsstand cover price) to the magazine. It was cheesy – a plastic football that opened in two and had the keys inside, along with a line to plug into a telephone jack.

THE ITEM WAS so truly tacky that it is one of those premiums that people still use as the punch line to a joke (that, and a set of Ginsu knives) anytime someone tries to sell you something that is nice, but that you could probably do without.

Now, it seems that we can put the Tribune Co. (publishers of, among other things, the Chicago Tribune) in the same category.

Tribune officials realize that the market for an ink-on-paper edition published every day (no matter how much easier it is to read than anything off a screen) is getting older and older – and will someday die off completely.

They’re betting on the idea of an electronic tablet – one that you carry around with you and download the content of the newspaper every day (or as often as you want to read it).

TRULY AT YOUR convenience.

Such a tablet would have the advantage of being more like a printed page, which would make it easier on the eyes to read than having to digest copy off a website on a computer screen.

And the Tribune Co. seems to think it can come up with its own specific touchscreen tablets.

So much so that a future subscription to the Chicago Tribune, or any of the newspapers that the company publishes, will include a free tablet thrown into the mix.

CABLE NEWS NETWORK reported Tuesday that people who take on an extended subscription would get the free tablet, along with a wireless-data plan with a cellular carrier.

Which kind of makes sense. If we’re going to need such a device to be able to read the Chicago Tribune content in the future, they probably should make it possible for us to have easy access to the tablet.

Then again, will it be like all those free cellular telephone deals. We get the free phone; provided that we sign up for some extended deal for cellphone service that seems to run forever and is next to impossible to get out of – and also has so many catches that add on extra charges for every little service a person could desire.

Or has the Tribune Co. come up with the 21st Century’s answer to the football phone?

WILL A TRIBUNE tablet be the subject of so many jokes, just like the Sports Illustrated football phones of the past? If you really want one, it can be bought for $15.99 on e-Bay as a pseudo-collectible.

Perhaps that is reason for encouragement. Maybe someday a Tribune tablet will be considered worth something by the kind of people who like to hang on to antiquated computer equipment and other electronics.

Then again, I still have a Radio Shack TRS 80 model 100 lap-top (the “Trash 80” of lore) that I don’t get rid of even though it doesn’t function properly anymore, just because of all the many thousands of news stories I wrote on it early in my time as a reporter-type person.

But back to the Tribune tablet, which CNN reports is experiencing delays.

IT WAS SUPPOSED to begin actual tests later this month. But the cable news channel admits that deadline will be missed because things aren’t working properly so far.

It is admirable that the company wants to work out as many glitches as possible before they start offering a premium that will be the way of the future for people to actually read the Chicago Tribune.

But there also comes a point when continued glitches could mean that such a project is merely too adventurous for the company. We’ll have to wait and see how this one turns out. Will it become a reality?

I kind of hope it does. Because my mind is already envisioning the advertising of the future to get people to subscribe to the Chicago Tribune – complete with tablet to actually be able to read the “paper.”

SCOUR AROUND YOUTube and you can find the old Sports Illustrated television commercial, including the guy who uses the football phone to call his girlfriend from the stadium, and get all excited that he’s using a football to talk to her.

Maybe the Tribune Tablet could have some sort of audio signal. An “Extra! Extra!” cry of a digital newsboy, telling us whenever there are happenings in the news that should make us want to read the newspaper’s latest copy. It's going to have to do something to distinguish itself from any other digital tablet.

That, in and of itself, could be so cheesy that the tablet supplants the football phone in the minds of people as a gaudy subscription premium.


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