Monday, May 04, 2009

Newspaper lifelines - large format e-readers and new subscription paradigms.

I was pleased to see that larger format e-readers may become available soon from Amazon as well as Apple and even the Hearst publishing empire. Although I appreciate the ability to pack a lot of reading material, music, and video content with me in the palm of my hand when I travel, I vastly prefer to read material in a larger format when I can relax at home. I'm also glad the device makers are painfully aware that widespread adoption of such devices will probably not begin until they break the color barrier. Users have become conditioned to high quality color graphics in most of the media they consume (me included) so have a tendency to balk at mere black and white offerings. We tend to think of the "Farmer Gray" days as the 1950s!

As for paying for subscriptions, I have no problem with that for high quality content, as long as the advertising to content ratio is not too high. I apply the same rule to my print subscriptions now. As a technology professional I am often offered free subscriptions to a plethora of technical magazines but so many amount to little more than an ad venue with content limited to canned PR releases. If that amounts to most of the content, I pass. In fact, at times I have had to almost argue with publishing sales people on the phone who insist that I "need" their publication to stay on top of technology developments when I refuse their offer for a free subscription.

I hope the publishing companies are thinking about what the shift in media can mean to their old traditional business model though. For example, if I see an article in an online subscription publication that is particularly interesting, I would like to share it with my friends without them having to have a full subscription. The frequency of article sharing could be managed by account settings.

Publishing companies should also hire someone to track news related to that month's feature articles and send out email updates to their subscriber base. This would be considered a value added service that would help justify payment for a subscription. This feature could include the ability for subscribers themselves to suggest other URLs for additional information about feature article topics, adding a social networking aspect to the subscription experience. In fact creating a social network environment for subscribers could prove attractive as well.

They say Amazon is working on a Kindle-like large format device. I hope device designers will keep in mind that many of us in rural areas can't get reliable cell phone signals at home, especially those in the "Empty Quarter" (that was what it was called at an Economic Development conference I went to years ago!) of the Great Basin (the high desert areas of Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and northeastern California) or the upper Rocky Mountain regions of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. So, we need a device that has cell phone, USB, and WIFI download capability - similar to an iPhone with sort of an iNews version of iTunes.

Maybe this is what Apple is currently working on.

Then there is the looming presence of Apple, which seems likely to introduce a multipurpose tablet computer later this year, according to rumor and speculation by Apple observers. Such a device, with a screen that is said to be about three or four times as large as the iPhone’s, would have an LCD screen capable of showing rich color and video, and people could use it to browse the Web.

Even if such a device has limited battery life and strains readers’ eyes, for many buyers it could be a more appealing alternative to devices dedicated to reading books, newspapers and magazines.

Such a Web-connected tablet would also pose a problem for any print publications that hope to try charging for content that is tailored for mobile devices, since users could just visit their free sites on the Internet. One way to counter this might be to borrow from the cellphone model and offer specialized reading devices free or at a discount to people who commit to, say, a one-year subscription. - More: New York Times

I definitely like the idea of a "free" device with one or two year subscription like a cell phone. Paying full bore for my iPhone was painful - especially considering that I was required to pay an additional $30 per month for data access whether I use the web with my iPhone or not (which I hardly ever do - its like using excruciatingly slow dial up if you are not near a WIFI hotspot!). They say that is the reason Apple's iPhone sales have not been as strong as they expected.
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