There's a heated turf war going on inside the New York Times over the iPad, pitting print die-hards against people focused on the Times' digital future. The outcome will determine pricing for some marquee content on Apple's tablet.
The internal fight might also determine how relevant — and profitable — the nation's most prominent newspaper can remain in the digital future. Which is probably why there's reportedly so much sniping over who gets to control the iPad edition internally.
On one side, a Times source explains, you have print circulation, which thinks it should control the iPad since it's just another way to distribute the paper. They'd like to charge $20 to $30 per month for the Times' forthcoming iPad app, basically the product already demonstrated on stage with Steve Jobs, the source said. Why so much? Because they're said to be afraid people will cancel the print paper if they can get the same thing on their iPad. Nevermind that iPad distribution comes with none of the paper or delivery costs associated with print, or that there's already a free electronic edition available to subscribers who cancel.
On the other side, you have the Times' digital operation, which is pushing to charge $10 per month for the iPad edition and is said to be up in arms over print circulation's pricing. The digital side will provide interactive content for the iPad no matter what happens, but does not want print circulation to have control of pricing, marketing and other facets of the product. It's something of an uphill battle since print circ has had control of other e-editions, for example for the Kindle, which are also seen on the digital side as overpriced.
The dispute has apparently escalated all the way to the top of the Times Building, and top executives — presumably the same ones who secretly dined with Apple CEO Steve Jobs — are now debating which way to go. Among those supporting the $20-30 per month print circulation side is, we're told, New York Times Media Group president Scott Heekin-Canedy.
Even by the standards of the old-fashioned Times, it would be shockingly retrograde to charge such a huge sum for internet content to protect the fading print edition. It would also be self defeating, exploding the paper's best chance yet to charge readers for its digital product. (Even at $10 per month, the iPad Times will have to compete with the free-through-2011 Web edition.)
But it's almost as shocking that the Times Company is having a discussion over this question at all. Really? You're going to ruin this little gift from Steve Jobs? You're still not sure if you're ready to commit to this internet thing? Sigh.
Update Feb. 17: Several readers and email correspondents have asked why the New York Times is even debating pricing for the iPad edition, given that it is essentially a clone of the Times Reader for regular computers, and given that the regular computer Times Reader costs $14.95 per month. The answer is in this followup post.