Andreessen once famously put the New York Times on deathwatch for its stubborn insistence on trying to save and prolong its legacy print business. With all the recent excitement in media quarters recently over Appleâ€™s upcoming iPad and other tablet computers, and their potential to create a market for paid digital versions and subscriptions of newspapers and magazines, I wondered if Andreessen still felt the same way. Does he think the iPad will change anything?
Andreessen asked me if TechCrunch is working on an iPad app or planning on putting up a paywall. I gave him a blank stare. He laughed and noted that none of the newer Web publications (heâ€™s an investor in the Business Insider) are either. â€œâ€All the new companies are not spending a nanosecond on the iPad or thinking of ways to charge for content. The older companies, that is all they are thinking about.â€
But people pay for apps. Wouldnâ€™t he pay for a beautiful touchscreen version of a magazine? Maybe, if it were something genuinely new that blew him away. It would have to be more than an article with video and graphics though. (I agree, otherwise itâ€™s no better than a CD-ROM).
Oh, and he points out, that the iPad will have a â€œfantastic browser.â€ No matter how many iPads the Apple sells, the Web will always be the bigger market. â€œThere are 2 billion people on the Web,â€ he says. â€œThe iPad will be a huge success if it sells 5 million units.â€
Despite trying time and again, Andreessenâ€™s observation is that media companies have no aptitude for technology, nor do they really understand what technology companies do. The one thing technology companies do really well is deal with constant disruption. â€œMicrosoft is going through this right now,â€ he points out, â€œBallmer is not complaining about it.â€ Heâ€™stackling it head on. So did Intel when Andy Grove gutted it to shift from memory chips to microprocessors. So does every technology company CEO. It is ingrained in the industry Andreessen comes from, so it is just obvious to him: â€œYou are cruising along, and then technology changes. You have to adapt.â€ Media companies need to learn that lesson fast. To the extent that their products are now delivered and consumed as digital bits, they too are becoming technology companies.