A recent survey from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) of its U.S. and Canadian newspaper, magazine and business membership to learn more about publishers’ current mobile initiatives and strategic plans underscores the hope publishers see in e-distribution. Close to 58% of all newspaper publishers format their content for viewing on a mobile service (smartphone, e-reader) and 70% of all publishers are paying more attention to digital distribution than last year.
At the same time, that hope is somewhat pinned to a company who has yet to publicly show its cards in the e-publishing space: Apple. Apple is rumored to be launching a tablet in 2010 that will functionally act as an e-reader but there are no details about launch time, 3G partners, publishing partners, and so on. Nonetheless, 65 percent of those surveyed say that Apple will produce and e-reader that will impact the publishing market. Amazon was second with 62% and the Plastic Logic hype machine landed 13% of those surveyed putting them in fourth place behind Sony with 25%.
And now for the news that indicates that while the e-distribution opportunity is strong, its successful implementation is (optimistically) more than a year away: More than half of publishers surveyed see a business model that includes a mix of advertising and subscription. Such a statement shows that there will be lots of experimentation in the next year with patience required from publishers to gather the answers needed to make decisions that resonate with consumers. At this point in their evolution, publishers know time is not on their side and the need for revenue has long since expired. Patience may be a luxury publishers cannot afford. Also in play are retail prices for e-reading devices and the role service providers (AT&T, etc..) will play in supporting the channel from a distribution as well as underwriting perspective. Could AT&T defray some of the device cost for folks who bought an e-reader armed with two years of 3G service (as they are doing with netbooks)?
Net net: as the e-reading market goes through a major shakeout related to devices, formats, hardware, software and business models, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The future, at least for consumers, should hold a 2010 holiday season where e-readers (priced at about $199) are the must-have gift. Until then, early adopters can knock themselves out.