Hey everyone, I’m changing my blog to the following URL: www.stewart-kirkpatrick.com/souralba. Sadly, wordpress.com won’t do a proper redirect so can I ask you to change your bookmarks. All the posts are the same at the new site and this one will remain but new posts will only appear at www.stewart-kirkpatrick.com/souralba.
Amazon has unveiled its “wireless reading device”, the Kindle (right). At 7.5in by 5.3in it’s designed to combine portability with a large enough screen to allow comfortable reading of a lot of text. Bezos & Co hope that people will read books on this device in the way they don’t on computers, whi
ch are not known for their “in the pocket” handiness.
When I’m on the move I read content through my Nokia E61 (left), which has a 320 x 240 pixel screen. It is certainly easier to read text on it than on a standard mobile phone but given the choice I’d still rather read paper. And this is what I think users will find with the Kindle. Yes, it’s more portable than a computer. Yes, it’s more readable than a phone or PDA. But it’s still not as convenient or pleasant to read as a book.
However, Amazon are incentivising their product with some clever pricing. They’re selling Kindle versions of books cheaper than the printed products (Run by Ann Patchett is $6 cheaper). This is where the advantage of the Kindle lies. Without printing and distribution costs, ebooks can costs a lot less. The success of Amazon’s reader will depend on whether the diminished ease-of-reading offer by a screen versus a book is offset by the lower price.
All this gets interesting for journalists because, as well as 80,000+ books, the Amazon Kindle offers access to the following:
- Top U.S. newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post; top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes—all auto-delivered wirelessly.
- Top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland; Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and The Irish Times.
- More than 250 top blogs from the worlds of business, technology, sports, entertainment, and politics, including BoingBoing, Slashdot, TechCrunch, ESPN’s Bill Simmons, The Onion, Michelle Malkin, and The Huffington Post.
It is worth noting that all of these are paid for services – unlike the web versions of these publications.
This aspect of the Kindle is particularly interesting because many in journalism have predicted the coming of a convergence device that combined readability with portability and provide better revenue models than the web. One such expert is new media sage Vin Crosbie (now Adjunct Professor of Visual and Interactive Communications at Syracuse University) who was quoted thus in the Online Journalism Review in 2002:
Vin Crosbie … goes so far as to predict that Web publishing will be subsumed and overwhelmed by a third wave of electronic publishing. (The first wave of proprietary online services, brought to you by Prodigy, Compuserve and America Online in the 1980s and early ’90s, was followed by the Web’s second wave.)
And what will make up this killer third wave? “Pervasive portable media,” says Crosbie, a media consultant in Greenwich, Conn. “The Web will become the lesser online medium for commercial publications beginning in the second half of this decade.”
Next-generation portable devices — which are just now hitting store shelves — will have several built-in advantages over the Web as a publishing medium, he says. Chief among them:
* They’re push media. Third-wave online newspaper editions will be delivered to devices wirelessly and automatically each day (up to several times a day) instead of relying on the user to fetch the news one page at a time. Even the most successful online newspaper, The New York Times on the Web, sees the average user stop by only 3.6 days a month, according to the Times’ latest stats.
* Prospects for advertising are more favorable. On the Web, publishers face a bottomless advertising hole with ads that are noisy, distracting and ignored. On a mobile device, newspaper editions can be formatted in a graphical layout that locks in a limited amount of display ad space, commanding premium rates.
* For the most part, the Web requires us to be tethered to a PC or laptop. Not so online publishing for mobile devices. We’re a mobile society, and we’d like to take our digital news with us.
The coming mobile revolution will require newsrooms to undergo a sea change in strategic thinking.
“Eight years ago, when you talked about online publishing, the mission for online news publishers was to use any combination of software and online technologies to promulgate the newspaper’s mission,” Crosbie says in a phone interview. “Since then, those efforts have calcified so that online publishing now means Web publishing. Newspapers have got to stop the tunnel vision and go back to original concept: Online publishing is the Web plus many other things.”
Of course, things have moved on in the five years since that article was written. RSS feeds have made the point about push vs pull redundant. The rise of mobile phones with half decent screens and the arrival of handheld gaming devices with internet access both mean that accessing the web no longer requires anyone to be tethered to anything.
However, the point about advertising display and layout of content remains valid half a decade on. This is important because the big problem for newspapers is plugging the gap between falling offline revenues and much smaller – though growing – online revenues. Perhaps the Kindle is another faltering step towards a device that will square that particular circle.
That said, the model for newspapers on the Kindle is not the answer. I can get the New York Times free through my Nokia’s web browser. Why would I pay to read it on a slightly bigger screen?