Monday, May 18, 2009

Kindle Could Be The Newspaper's Best Friend

While it seems that many niche print publications and community newspapers like The Harrison Press are doing OK in this digital hurricane, it is no secret that many daily newspapers, even some of the icons like the Boston Globe or Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, are not successfully navigating these troubled waters. The shrinking size of our local Enquirer is testament to this trend. There is certainly no lack of interest in the news. The issue is how we get our news.

Fewer and fewer of us wake up in the morning and trudge to the driveway to find out what happened in the world while we were asleep. Instead we switch on the TV to view newscasts which span the 24 hour clock, or, as more often the case, we go online. The irony is that we go online to read many of the very newspapers that are having trouble surviving.

Very few print publications adopted a “pay for service” model in the early days of the web. Now they are finding that once you give something away free it is very hard to begin to charge for it. With fewer and fewer people paying for the paper and ink copy and more and more reading the material free online, it does not take an economist to figure out that this model is no longer sustainable.

The recent announcement of a new model of the “Kindle” may have given some hope to this struggling industry. The “Kindle” is an electronic reader that has been around a few years. Unlike a PDA or Laptop, the “Kindle” is designed for one purpose. That purpose is to display, in an easy to use and easy to see device, printed words as close to the experience of reading a book or newspaper as possible. The new “Kindle” has a larger screen than the first model and uses a special display that is easily read in bright sunlight.

Of course the big advantage is that it can retrieve and store more newspapers, magazines and books than a small bookstore. And since it is electronically tethered to the online world, these materials can be updated quickly and inexpensively. Rather than waiting for the next edition of the newspaper for updates, in reality you could be reading the beginning of a story before the end was finished. Once a book is released, there is no waiting for it to be shipped from Amazon or to wind up in the library

Even the textbook companies are getting into the game. Some prestigious institutions like Case Western University in Cleveland are going to try “selling” texts to students in this electronic form.

There are other companies like Sony that have developed similar readers. More and more publications are experimenting with subscription plans. How people will adapt to reading on a “electronic” screen rather than on a piece of paper is still unknown. For sure if the “Kindle” and other readers are successful, we will accomplish at least two good things: we will keep the diversity of news reporting healthy and we will save more than a few trees.

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