Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Kindle-ing while newspapers burn

Why do newspaper publishers think they can be saved by a clunky, electronic distraction like the double-wide Kindle DX introduced today?

Do they really think anyone wants to spend $489 to lug around a clunky 10.4- by 7.2-inch tablet to read a static (that is to say non-interactive) version of the paper?

In announcing the new jumbo Kindle today, Amazon.Com said pilot programs would be launched by the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post to provide Kindle-friendly versions to subscribers who shell out for the e-readers.

But why? Of all the things that are wrong with newspapers, the format of the printed product isn’t one of them.

It’s true that you can get the news more rapidly on the web, satellite radio or Twitter. And you can watch videos anyplace from CNN to YouTube to your smart phone.

But nothing beats the convenience and portability of a well-organized newspaper.

A newspaper requires no batteries or AC current, can be read anyplace in all-but-blackout conditions, can be folded (unlike a jumbo Kindle) for convenient transport, can be clipped for coupons, can catch canary poop and can be responsibly recycled into cute flower pots (see below) in a way that electronic detritus cannot.

If you don't care to acquire your news interactively, a printed newspaper is a superior choice. And a daily paper is cheaper than a Kindle by about $488 per copy.

If you want a dose of interactive news, then you already can find the contents of your newspaper – generally available for free – on a PC, laptop, net book or iPhone.

Instead of trying to persuade consumers to adapt to an expensive, awkward and idiosyncratic gizmo like the wide-body Kindle, newspapers would be wiser to spend their time and resources optimizing their existing offerings for the interactive formats already in popular use.


23 Comments:

Blogger ceejayoz said...

A newspaper may be cheaper than a Kindle, but that'd only be a good argument if you had to buy a new Kindle each day.

Kindle books, newspapers, and magazines are cheaper (in some cases, dramatically) than their in-print versions. After a few years, the savings add up.

Add in that it's searchable, archivable, compact, and I don't have to page through a bunch of ads, and the price can be well worth it.

I have a Kindle 2 and I've about stopped buying physical books.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Tao Jones said...

Who are these Newspaper Publishers who think their business can be saved by the Kindle, exactly?

1:04 PM  
Anonymous solitude said...

You realize, of course that not only is the device smaller and lighter than even one of the college textbooks it is designed to replace - it's also smaller and lighter than the NYT was ten years ago when it was still a real paper?

The problem isn't clunkiness.

The problem is that fewer and fewer people are interested in non-interactive news at any price.

I wouldn't have read this blog post if you didn't have a comment section or forums. There are other people with the same observations or only slightly different takes presenting the same information.

If there is no dialog, I skip the site. And I don't have to miss anything to have that standard.

1:28 PM  
Blogger tgd said...

You know why publishers are so enthralled, Alan: "This looks like something we understand! We can wall off our stuff! And make people PAY for it! We DON'T have to change after all!"

Ummm, sorry. Yeah, you still do. We'all apply the standard business-case argument: What assumptions have to be true for this to work? In other words, whaddaya gotta believe?

Kindle penetration is low as it is. For it to be the "savior" of the newspaper industry, you gotta believe that:

- People will willingly plunk down $498 for a single-use e-reader.
- They'll willingly spend yet more for subscriptions.
- Advertisers will slap themselves on the forehead and exclaim "You're RIGHT! Your audience ISN'T shrinking and getting older," thus reviving revenue from the classifieds and full-page Verizon ads that have been lost over the past decade.

Oh, yes: You also must believe in the tooth fairy.

Can we please work on the real issues - innovation - and not focus on ways we can avoid change?
-tgd

1:34 PM  
Blogger ceejayoz said...

"Kindle penetration is low as it is."

Not according to Amazon. Books available on Kindle are tracking at 35% of the sales of the paper version on Amazon.com. That's pretty huge.

"People will willingly plunk down $498 for a single-use e-reader."

One, the price will come down drastically. LCD monitors were $800 a few years back, now they're $120. The Motorola RAZR could barely use the internet at $400, the $200 iPhone now has a full browser.

Two, subsidies may bring down the price in the meantime. NYT, WaPo, and WSJ are all offering reduced prices in exchange for subscription committments. Add in the fact that Kindle books are cheaper than physical books and that $500 price tag (which'll sink, remember) starts to seem cheap.

I spend $500-$1,000 for massive printed textbooks when I was in college. If I can get them half off because the publisher didn't have to print anything, I might have saved the entire cost of the device in one year of school.

"They'll willingly spend yet more for subscriptions."

Hardly. They'll willingly spend less for subscriptions, but subscriptions that cost literally nothing for the newspaper to distribute. No printing press, no delivery drivers, no plastic wrappers - just a single XML feed that Amazon pulls down once a night.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous steve o said...

Some publishers get it, as do some of the folks who are commenting, but many still do not.

This is not a readership problem -- it's an advertising problem! Newspapers basically lost the ability to monetize circulation about 20 years ago, and the internet simply accelerated that trend.

All the Kindles (I agree - it's a dumb idea), netbooks, laptops, and i-Phones in the world won't help, unless the readership they generate (or maintain) can be transformed into enough revenue to operate a large news gathering (and editing) operation.

Many people believe that these devices will enable publishers to charge enough to do this - it won't happen. Readers won't pay for news - they never have. Advertisers paid for news.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

Right now, papers are getting about $500 in ad revenue per subscriber per year and the distribution cost is higher than that (close to $700) so if they can afford to send paper, they can afford to give the damn thing away. I think a better deal all around is, "Hey! You're paying $250 a year to get the paper. We'll give you the Kindle if you pay that in advance rather than monthly. Or, you can pay monthly but if you stop paying, you gotta give us $400... sorta like a cell phone contract."

Papers are so cash-short they would have trouble financing too much up front.

AT&T will sell you a netbook for $99 and a two-year contract. Again, the deal is phone-like.

I travel more than 100 days a year and the NYT, Globe and WSJ pile up at home base. I'd rather get them on the Kindle. The WSJ is well formatted for my netbook and my G1 phone. I'll save them and me some money and help the environment by going electronic. NYT and Globe should do the same.

Interactivity can come later.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that most (bad) politicians, preachers, teachers and writers/editors have the same personality characteristic called "would-be saviors"? They all think that if only all people listen to them, the world would be much better.

And now to answer Tao Jones's question: the publishers who think Kindle can save their business are NOT editors-dreamers but business people who entered publishing for money, not to dream about saving the world.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the problems newspapers face is the news consumer's interest in getting the most up-to-date news whenever he/she chooses to access it -- from as many sources as possible. A fixed-time publication, in whatever format it's delivered, just isn't competitive. My 20-something children are newspaper readers, but when I suggested that I give them a Kindle, they laughed. They are so accustomed to RSS feeds and breaking news e-mails from a variety of sources that they have no interest in getting something electronically that doesn't change. Over time, a Kindle will save money over a paper subscription (the savings from reading the New York Times on a Kindle versus having it delivered pays for a Kindle after just a year) and I know fellow baby boomers who love its convenience. But in the end I don't think it will prove appealing as a way of getting the news. It limits you in a way people increasingly don't want to be limited.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

ceejayoz said -
'Add in that it's searchable, archivable...'

That's a good point. If Kindle newpapers are archivable then that would be a real selling point (albeit for a pretty limited number of people).

Is there any practical way of archiving news accessed on the internet (other than individually saving each story/web page) ?

6:29 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

Steve O (I assume Steve Outing who knows more than anyone about advertising):

Why do you say newspapers lost ability to monetize advertising 20 years ago? Ad revenue per print subscriber rose from 1004 to 2007. You can pick different start years for comparison, but ad revenue (not share of the entire ad pie) seems to have held up well until the receission hit. Revenue was over $900 per subscriber in 2007.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous bevo said...

Now I can get the same dull journalism on an electronic device as I can in paper form? A bad product is a bad product whether it is on my laptop, a PDA, or on paper.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Being electronic distribution, Kindle and other e-readers don't involve the cost of printing and delivering. Huge savings.
2) Since it has e-ink technology the Kindle reads like ink on paper. A computer or a cell phone do not read like ink on paper. They don't "read" well at all. People have forgotten what they're missing. They remember when they read on a Kindle.
3) With the Kindle, publishers can get paid for their content.
4) Interactivity isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, what good does it do me, a reader? I can join the idiot chorus of comments at the end of an online news story? I can become a "citizen journalist" and do some reporting for free?

The Kindle, and e-readers like it, are, indeed, the answer for newspapers.

7:44 PM  
Blogger chuck said...

I don't think the newspaper is the target here; it's academic publishing. It's too small still to be a newspaper, it doesnt handle images all that well, and there's no color. Students get screwed buying books every semester and book publishers don't make any money on used textbooks; college bookstores do. But I would argue that few students have an extra $500 worth of mad money rattling around in their pocket for an e reader. given the technology's inadequacy with images in the Kindle I've used anyway, biology or engineering textbooks would seem to be out. Honestly, I'm really not sure who this oversized/undersized device would appeal to, especially at list price. If you're in it to read books, stick with the first generation; if you want it to be a newspaper, wait and see what Hearst comes out with a bigger device that might look more like a newspaper.

7:44 PM  
Blogger TO said...

Zero Content Day! The newspaper industry should refuse to publish any content on 6/3/09 just to see what happens to the internet.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a portion of text from the front page of Amazon's Web site introducing the new bigger Kindle. It's a letter from Jeff Bezos to his customers. It talks about how people have been printing and printing from their computers. When you find out why, then you will know why Kindle and other e-readers that use E-ink technology or its equivalent are the future of reading, which includes newspapers.



Dear Customers,
A strange thing happened on the way to the paperless society. We humans created more paper than ever before. Computer printers (and their evil companion, the ink-toner cartridge) have proliferated, and most of us routinely print out and lug around loads of personal and professional documents. Why? It’s not that buying printers or changing ink-toner cartridges is fun. It’s because reading on paper is better than reading on traditional computer displays. Printing has been worth the hassle.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Luke T. Bush said...

Maybe someone will invent re-usable plastic “paper.” A thin material that could be formatted in the compact or tabloid size, foldable, lightweight. You cut out want you want to keep (or scan it into your computer) and then return the old edition for credit at the newspaper center where it’s melted down and printed (pressed) into a new one.

Crazy? Not as crazy as carrying around a clunky e-reader.

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Kindle's lack of interactivity, color and image resolution are all limitations of its E-Ink display. Over time, that will improve.

However, as the E-Ink display improves, devices such as the Kindle, Plastic Logic, Sony Reader, First Paper and the rest will be displaced by small computers and mobile phones that are lighter and thinner than the current generation, because E-Ink finally will become a practical display for them.

Even if the e-readers are not totally displaced, the improved interactivity will lead to improved browsers, leaving little reason for readers to subscribe to a newspaper that can be viewed for free on the same device.

I don't think Bezos is too worried about this. His mission is not to sell newspapers or even devices, but to sell books, and the newer, lighter computers and phones will work just fine for that.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Steve Outing said...

Whoever posted the comment as "steve o" was not me, FYI. I'm on a couple days vacation and haven't participated in this thread, though I did write some thoughts on the bigger Kindle on my blog before I left.

http://is.gd/xvau

Steve Outing

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth Kaylene said...

Steve O's comment is right on the money:

"This is not a readership problem -- it's an advertising problem! Newspapers basically lost the ability to monetize circulation about 20 years ago, and the internet simply accelerated that trend."

The Kindle itself is a matter of opinion. My personal opinion is that it's just a fad that will, like most other fads, fade. You can't really go any further than reading something with a Kindle; Solitude said "If there is no dialog, I skip the site. And I don't have to miss anything to have that standard." I might be wrong on this, because I don't have a Kindle, but if you can't comment on articles, blogs, etc, with the the Kindle, it is pointless. I can read and comment on all of my news, blogs, and whatever else right on my BlackBerry, which only cost a little over $100 as opposed to nearly $500. That is an insane amount of money to pay just to be able to read things in the most "savvy" way. My laptop cost $600 and I can do a hell of a lot more with it.

Some argue that the savings add up, and that the price will eventually come down. The average consumer is not going to be looking ahead at the potential price cut or savings they might have in the long run. Most people are spending less right now; it's still cheaper to buy an ebook you can read on your computer, or even a regular paperback. I don't know anyone who is going to dish out $500 for a Kindle when they could spend that money on their rent, mortgage, or groceries instead.

Newspaper publishers will also find that they can't put any advertising on their content, so they won't make as much money as they would with online content.

It's my personal opinion that most people are just buying this thing because it's "hip" and it's new. But let me ask you this: While you are studying for your history exam, would you rather do it on a Kindle or would you rather have a textbook that you can use a highlighter on? Would you rather let someone borrow a textbook ($50-$150 to replace if they lose or damage it), or let them borrow your Kindle ($500 to replace)?

8:52 AM  
Blogger Lex said...

An excellent, spirited discussion.

I live in Austin but have yet to see a Kindle in use.

Also, I would like to join this "chorus of idiot comments"...and cast my vote...for a "zero content day" boycott of web aggregators.

Let's see what happens to Google,
Huffington, et al, then.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Yamasakio said...

I'm not sure about the Kindle itself, but it seems rather shortsighted to dismiss ereaders all together. Once the eInk technology imporves a bit, imagine the ability to serve ads to specific subscriber profiles on a similar device. Even if you charge nothing for the subscription, the sheer amount of data you would have to target an ad would lead to ad rates above the current CPMs (but probably lower than traditional print ads). Cut the printing and delivery costs, and you have a possible business model. There is a real possibilty of one of these devices taking over the textbook market, thus decreasing the device cost and increasing its user base. Will newspaper publishers lag begind yet again?

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Chris Harney said...

Why dont Newspapers create a application that allows you to recieve the newspaper 7 days a week directly to your computer? the newspaper could be delivered in a email form but it will only open using the custom made application,you could also include some sort of digital rights mangement ( therefore making it
non-shareable), of course the customer would have to pay a yearlty subscription fee for this service.

5:49 PM  

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