Philadelphia Media Network will soon start selling deeply discounted Android tablet computers packaged with applications displaying digital editions of The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Additional applications on the tablets will provide other material from The Inquirer and, the papers' website.

Chief executive officer and publisher Gregory J. Osberg said the plan to bundle a discounted tablet with digital subscriptions would be a first in the industry, which has been struggling to maintain revenue as consumers steadily shift their reading preferences from print publications to computers, smartphones, and other digital devices.

The announcements were made at a staff meeting and news conference Monday at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

To spur interest in Philadelphia Media Network's growing array of digital "apps," Osberg said the company would offer a discount of more than 50 percent off the total price of the tablet and four apps to customers who agree to subscribe to the apps for at least a year. He did not disclose the tablet's manufacturer or more details on pricing.

Osberg also announced plans for a new technology incubator as part of what the company calls its "Project Liberty" initiative. To be housed starting this fall at PMN's Broad Street headquarters, the incubator will be financed by a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a cosponsor of the project along with Drexel University, Dreamit Ventures, and the Philadelphia Foundation.

The incubator will provide four start-up or early-stage companies with at least six months of rent-free office space, mentoring, equipment, and technical and administrative support. Drexel students will participate via the school's cooperative-education program.

To qualify for the incubator, applicants must be developing products centered on local e-commerce, local mobile technology, or app-development technology, Osberg said. "We'll have first right of refusal in the use of these technologies," he said.

Osberg called the partnership unprecedented, an assessment echoed by Donna Frisby-Greenwood of the Knight Foundation, which has made $100 million in grants over the last four years to support media and journalism projects.

"This will be the first opportunity we have to incubate new technology within a media organization," she said.

Osberg said Philadelphia Media Network hoped to ride a wave of interest in tablet computers, which have soared in popularity since the April 2010 launch of the Apple iPad. Apple reportedly sold about 25 million iPads in the product's first 14 months.

Apple sells iPads for $500 to $800, depending on the amount of memory and whether they connect to the Internet via 3G cellular networks or only via WiFi. Tablets using Google's Android operating system sell for similar prices, though some cost as little as $300.

Osberg said Philadelphia Media would initially offer WiFi-only tablets but planned to add cellular versions in coming months. If the August rollout goes well, he said, the company plans a broader launch around Thanksgiving.

Osberg said he expected steep growth in demand for Android-based tablets, mirroring the rise in popularity of non-Apple smartphones despite Apple's key role in creating that product niche, too.

Watch video of Gregory J. Osberg, company chief executive officer and publisher, announcing the media company's initiative

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