Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Will the new Kindle DX save the news industry?

No. It's too little, too late, and for too much.

The 9.7-inch-screen big brother to the present 6-inch Kindle has arrived while dozens of newspapers are rapidly circling the toilet despite massive layoffs and massive wage givebacks. They will fail before the Kindle DX is out (it's to be released this summer) in sufficient numbers and with sufficient subscribers to electronic newspapers and magazines to attract enough advertising that will start a turnaround in the industry.

The Kindle DX is also way too expensive -- $489 -- to sell to most potential subscribers. It still offers only black print on a white surface, while newspaper readers are used to bright color graphics.

I'll say it's likely that future Kindles and their perhaps colorful competitors (some of which will arrive late this year) will be the eventual engine for consuming news. But the shakeout in the newspaper and magazine industry will already have occurred, and our choices will be limited to just a few national papers and whatever local rags have managed to keep their heads above water.

The Kindle DX, however, may save the exchequers of university students. Printed and bound textbooks are filthy expensive, often going for more than $150 even well used, and if textbook publishers can offer their wares electronically at half the print price, the Kindle DX will be a bargain for Joe College.

As for the rest of us, it's too bad we didn't have this new technology a couple of years ago when it was needed most.


  1. Will students really spend all that money on a Kindle DX when they already can read e-textbooks on laptops now -- and in full color?

  2. I'm a gadget geek and I would love to have one of these. My Ipod lets me read .txt files. I'm thrilled to be able to read these files but my 3 inch screen takes some getting used to. Eye strain is a hassle but being able to store and read thousand of books on one device is awesome. I currently have the entire Star Wars series, most of the Dragonlance series and a few other series stored on my Ipod. I know I may never end up reading most of the books but my OCD causes me to collect them. I'm a wicked pack rat. You should look at my computer. I installed 2 extra hard drives just so I could keep adding to my collections virtual US Navy patches, fire dept patches, free software, pictures and countless other junk.

  3. Although I've been writing since I was a teenager, I never shared it with anyone and only last year did I decide to actually try and do something with it. For this reason, I'm a little behind in keeping up with the publishing industry. The one thing that I've noticed over the past several months, though, is that it seems woefully behind the times.

    In an age when everything is going the way of the computer (I renew my driver's license and my car tag, check my daughter's grades, pay those bleeping traffic tickets from the red light cameras, pay bills and a do dozens of other things online), it seems like the publishing industry is always about a day late and a dollar short. When I started researching literary agents, I was appalled at how many will not accept electronic queries. Are they serious? I'm supposed to kill a tree for something that will most likely end up in the trash can?

    And what about the newspapers? I've been wondering for sometime how they stay in business if I can read my news online for free. Your post here is the first I've heard of their attempt to really catch up with the times.

    What's your take on all this, Henry? You've spent a career in this world and I'm brand new to it. Am I way off base? Are there legitimate reasons for the industry's slow progress? Or is the progress not really as slow as it seems?

  4. I could spend all day talking about why newspapers are failing -- there are many, many reasons.

    Foremost among them, I think, is simple inertia. Newspapers focused on changing content to attract younger readers when they really should have been focusing on means of delivery -- they reacted too late to the Internet revolution.

    They gave away copyrighted content on their websites when they should have been charging for it. Now everybody expects their news for free.

    And while this was happening they suffered the ill luck of the stock market collapse and the disappearance of advertising.

  5. I think the problem is that people don't want to read today's newspapers in today's world for any price or for free, in any form.

    Isn't what we are doing right now news?

    When I spend a little time on Facebook, isn't that news? It's news in the sense that news existed for our forefathers, who lived remotely like you are now.

    I'm following the torture scandal obsessively and last night I found three good pieces, one of them on a blog or web site or something like that.

    So I'm well supplied with news. And a new sense of community.

  6. A sense of community . . . ! Paul, I think you've hit the nail square on the head with that comment. Newspapers used to exude a sense of community; people would ask each other, "Didja read Royko today?" We journos wrote for readers as if they were our neighbors. No longer; ego and political agenda rule.