Why #newspapers should embrace the #Kindle


I’m a lifelong newspaper reader and a newspaper journalist. I have been leery in the past of technical trends, since I really hate investing in some new technical gadget only to get burned when it does not work. Last year I bought a solar charger for my cell phone, but it only charges the phone when I plug it into an outlet, not when I leave it exposed to the sun’s rays. So despite how much I love to read books, I held off on buying an ebook reader.

But I decided I could no longer stay on the ebook sidelines given the rapidly evolving dynamics of the newspaper industry (free Internet news, free Internet classifieds, young people turning elsewhere for news, etc.), leading to massive layoffs and smaller newspaper staffs. If I’m going to stay in journalism, I must embrace the changes. And newspapers must stay on top of technology, while not jumping on the technology bandwagon just because it’s cool. It must also make good business sense (some of my newsroom brethren may shy away from this conclusion, but the paper must make money to pay our salary).

Paywalls, or the practice of charging for news content, were a disaster for most general interest newspapers – it worked better for journals and other publishers of niche content. People had gotten used to reading free news on the Internet, and watching the television news. But there is some hope for newspapers. The popularity of ebook readers, starting with the Kindle, have gotten people used to using technology to download both free, classic books, and to buy more modern books for discounted prices (the discounted prices may or may not remain in force, but that topic is for another blog). Many of the large newspapers, from the Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, to regional papers like The Arizona Republic, have embraced the Kindle. The prices I have seen vary from $5.99 per month to $14.99 per month.

A Jan. 8, 2011, story on The (UK) Telegraph’s Web site says Sony has inked a deal with News Corp. to offer the Wall Street Journal and The New York Post on Sony’s Reader series of ebook readers. The Telegraph quotes Robert Thomson, the WSJ’s editor-in-chief, as saying the paper would earn a more favorable revenue cut than the 30 percent that Amazon.com pays content providers on average.

It would not seem ideal to sell a monthly subscription for as little as $5.99, since this is much lower than what a normal print subscription would cost. And ebook newspaper readers do not yet receive the advertisements available in print editions. But as more people use ebook readers, newspapers can start selling ebook-only ads to make up for some of the revenue. And receiving a cut of $5.99 or $14.99 per month is better than not receiving anything. Newspapers did not reach their recently departed financial glory days for many years.

Ebooks like the Kindle and tablet computers like the iPad are making people accustomed to paying for content once again, and hopefully can help newspapers regain some of their lost luster. Relying on this technology is not a perfect solution, but it’s preferable to burying our heads in the sand and hoping that news Web sites will sell enough ads to make up for lost ground.

The next blog: When a Kindle is not a Kindle – Read books on your mobile phone

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About Jason Reynolds
I'm a reporter, blogger, husband and aspiring author. When I'm not working, spending time with the family, or reading (which is quite a bit), I enjoy cooking, traveling, photography and wrangling my family's cats and chickens.

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