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Copley News Service
28 May 2010
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Looking to Big-Screen E-Readers
to Help Save the Daily Press
May 4, 2009
The New York Times
By BRAD STONE
The iPod stemmed losses in the music industry. The Kindle gave beleaguered
book publishers a reason for optimism.
Now the recession-ravaged newspaper and magazine industries are hoping for their
own knight in shining digital armor, in the form of portable reading devices
with big screens.
Unlike tiny mobile phones and devices like the Kindle that are made to display
text from books, these new gadgets, with screens roughly the size of a standard
sheet of paper, could present much of the editorial and advertising content of
traditional periodicals in generally the same format as they appear in print.
And they might be a way to get readers to pay for those periodicals — something
they have been reluctant to do on the Web.
Such e-reading devices are due in the next year from a range of companies,
including the News Corporation, the magazine publisher Hearst and Plastic Logic,
a well-financed start-up company that expects to start making digital newspaper
readers by the end of the year at a plant in Dresden, Germany.
But it is Amazon, maker of the Kindle, that appears to be first in line to try
throwing an electronic life preserver to old-media companies. As early as this
week, according to people briefed on the online retailer’s plans, Amazon will
introduce a larger version of its Kindle wireless device tailored for displaying
newspapers, magazines and perhaps textbooks.
An Amazon spokesman would not comment, but some news organizations, including
The New York Times, are expected to be involved in the introduction of the
device, according to people briefed on the plans. A spokeswoman for The Times,
Catherine J. Mathis, said she could not comment on the company’s relationship
These devices from Amazon and other manufacturers offer an almost irresistible
proposition to newspaper and magazine industries. They would allow publishers to
save millions on the cost of printing and distributing their publications, at
precisely a time when their businesses are under historic levels of pressure.
“We are looking at this with a great deal of interest,” said John Ridding, the
chief executive of the 121-year-old, salmon-colored British newspaper The
Financial Times. “The severe double whammy of the recession and the structural
shift to the Internet has created an urgency that has rightly focused attention
on these devices.”
Perhaps most appealing about this new class of reading gadgets is the
opportunity they offer publishers to rethink their strategy in a rapidly
evolving digital world. The move by newspapers and magazines to make their
material freely available on the Web is now viewed by many as a critical blunder
that encouraged readers to stop paying for the print versions. And publishers
have found that they were not prepared to deal with the recent rapid decline of
print advertising revenue.
Publishers could possibly use these new mobile reading devices to hit the reset
button and return in some form to their original business model: selling
subscriptions, and supporting their articles with ads.
The current version of the Kindle has proved in a limited way that this is
possible. Even though its six-inch black-and-white screen is made for reading
books, Amazon offers Kindle owners subscriptions to more than 58 newspapers and
magazines, including The Times, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. (The
Journal subscription costs $9.99 a month, The Times is $13.99 a month and The
New Yorker is $2.99 a month.)
Subscribers get updates once a day over a cellular network. Amazon and other
participating publishers say they are satisfied with the results, although they
have not released data on the number of subscriptions that have been sold.
For the all the hope publishers are placing in dedicated electronic reading
devices, they will be encumbered at the start with some serious shortcomings.
Most use display technology from E Ink, a company in Cambridge, Mass., that was
founded in 1997 based on research started at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology M.I.T. Media Lab to develop thin electronic displays capable of
mimicking the readability of regular paper, while using a minimum amount of
The screens, which are currently in the Kindle and Sony Reader, display no color
or video and update images at a slower rate than traditional computer screens.
That has some people in the magazine industry, in particular, keeping their
hopes in check until E Ink evolves.
“I don’t think we would be anywhere near as excited about anything in black and
white as we would about high-definition color,” said Tom Wallace, the editorial
director of Condé Nast, publisher of glossy magazines like Vogue and Wired. “But
technology changes at a pretty high clip these days, and if we are now in the
Farmer Gray days, it will be only a very short while until we are in the video
Another hitch is that some makers of reading devices, like Amazon, want to set
their own subscription prices for publications and control the relationship with
the subscriber — something media companies like Condé Nast object to. Plastic
Logic and Hearst have said publicly that they will take a more open approach and
let media companies deal directly with readers and set their own prices.
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
Then there is the possibility that all these devices from Amazon, Apple and the
rest have simply not appeared in time to save many players in the troubled realm
of print media.
“If these devices had been ready for the general consumer market five years ago,
we probably could have taken advantage of them quickly,” said Roger Fidler, the
program director for digital publishing at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
“Now the earliest we might see large-scale consumer adoption is next year, and
unlike the iPod it’s going to be a slower process migrating people from print to
“And all of us are very worried about how newspapers are going to survive in the
next few years if we don’t see any turnaround in the economy,” Mr. Fidler said.
Whether or not the situation is hopeless, newspapers and magazines now find
themselves weighing offers of aid from outsiders. When asked at the debut of the
Kindle 2 in February whether the Kindle could help the print media, Jeffrey P.
Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, said he thought there were “genuine
opportunities” to save journalism.
“And we’re excited about helping with that,” he added.
Looking to Big-Screen
E-Readers to Help Save the Daily Press,
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