A few weeks into my ownership of a Kindle 2, I must report that the Amazon e-reader holds great promise as it delivers a very intuitive experience for those who want portability and a virtual library at their fingertips. Adding books (from both Amazon and other sources) to the Kindle 2 is straightforward with the ability to offer sample excepts as well as access trial subscriptions to a number of newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, Time and Newsweek. The navigation is slick with large buttons with perhaps the coolest feature being the Kindle’s virtual memory in that it keeps track of where you left off in your last session whether it was on the device or on the Kindle App that is available for the iPhone.
While reading books on the Kindle is a delight, diving into your favorite newspaper or magazine is (as they say in Twitterspeak) a total fail. Newspapers render oddly, converting an inherent non-linear read into a stilted, non-interactive session that captures neither the context of print nor the hyperactive richness of the Web. Magazines are not only rendered in the same linear fashion, without color they lose their sense of artistry and personality. The fact that Amazon charges up to $14.99 per month for newspapers and $2.99 for magazines adds insult to an injured concept.
Lo and behold, Amazon watchers announced the company was working on a larger format Kindle that might be ready by Q4 2009 and would address the issue of the device’s current unsuitability for magazines and newspapers. So, does that mean my Kindle 2 becomes a $400 paperweight in less than one year of ownership if I want to add the San Francisco Chronicle and Fortune to my virtual lineup? Meanwhile, the picture gets cloudier (or clearer, depending on your perspective) with the advent of a new device from Plastic Logic which with a larger screen size is, out of the chute, better suited for newspapers and magazines. Hearst, publishers of both newspapers and magazines, has also expressed its intent to get into the portable reading device game, but it’s not clear whether it will build its own or OEM one from…well, Plastic Logic? All eyes will be on Plastic Logic’s upcoming trials with the Detroit newspapers as well as partners such as USA Today.
All of this begs the basic question; are newspapers and magazines well suited for e-readers and is there a business model that will work for publishers and capture the imagination of young, digital consumers? These are topics we will tackle in some upcoming research, with investors, advertisers, publishers, consumer electronics firms and e-warehouse providers (Libre Digital) having a lot riding on this trend. Needless to say, we’re on top of it.