What can save an ailing newspaper industry? Tablets — at least that’s what two northeast papers are hoping. The Philadelphia Inquirer and sister-pub Philadelphia Daily News, both of which went bankrupt last year, are now announcing a bold new initiative — discounted tablets with built-in apps pre-loaded with their editorial content.

The program will kick off with a limited run of 2,000 devices late next month, with more to follow later on this year. Prices and specs haven’t been confirmed yet, but the idea is to sell the tablet and editorial content bundled together for half off their combined retail value. In other words, if Android tablets are going for about  $500 to $600, and the newspapers’ digital subscriptions are $3 weekly, then the math could add up to a pretty attractive package.

The device will ship with four news apps, with two of them simulating the print versions of the papers. There will also be a separate Inquirer app (which will have extra content) and a dedicated app for Philly.com, the online home of both papers. No firm numbers were disclosed about the total cost of the program, but it’s somewhere in the six-figure range, so it’s certainly not cheap. The asking price probably won’t cover it, so the papers are also selling advert space on the homescreen as well.

If this offering proves popular, the advertising revenue and customer data could be invaluable. But the big question is, will consumers flock to this device to begin with? It will depend on a variety of factors, not least of which has to do with the software. Will these Android tablets allow the download and installation of third-party apps? What’s to stop a knowledgeable user from getting a bargain, then rooting and removing the newspaper apps? And if a user keeps and uses their device as intended, will usage details outside of the articles viewed also be tracked?

There are still too many unknowns for anybody to predict how this will go. But what do you think of the concept so far? Could a tablet/content bundle appeal to the masses? Would it appeal to you?

[via AdWeek, image via Gotta Be Mobile]