New York Times turf war may kill iPad version before launch

Gawker has word of a turf war going on over at the New York Times for control of the iPad version of the paper. According to an anonymous NYT insider, it boils down to this: The NYT print circulation folks want to charge $30 a month for access to the tablet version of the paper, while the digital operation side wants to go for a more reasonable $10 a month fee.

Apparently, the print group is afraid that subscribers will cancel their print orders once they get access to the tablet version of the paper — hence the high price. Working in their favor is the fact that the print circulation group already controls other digital versions of the paper, like the $13.99 a month Kindle version.

Gawker’s source tells them that the debate for control is now being talked about among top NYT executives, so it’s clearly something the paper is taking seriously. But considering that the web version of the NYT will be completely free until early 2011, I don’t see how the paper will be able to convince anyone to pay $30 a month for a more spruced up digital version. I’d go as far to say that if the NYT went with the $30 pricing model for the iPad app, it would be as good as dead before it launched.

This is surely a battle that other publications are facing too. Yesterday we reported on a phenomenal-looking demonstration of Wired’s tablet version — a publication that’s historically had conflict between the print and digital sides for some time. We haven’t heard about any drama from Wired’s tablet reformat yet, but don’t be surprised if something pops up online soon.

The Wired demo makes me excited about tablets as a potential new media format — more so than the promise of being able to browse the web from your couch. At the same time, I won’t have much sympathy if the New York Times ends up charging $30 a month for its tablet version, only to see it crash and burn.

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