If you’re among the elite group that follows my Twitter stream (hi there, @wvrrgr), you’ll know that a couple of days ago I was expressing the hope that newspapers would subsidize the cost of the new Kindle for subscribers. At today’s press conference to announce the large-screen Kindle DX, I got my wish … kind of.
The New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe will indeed subsidize the $489 price for people who subscribe to their Kindle editions, but only as an experiment in areas where there’s no home delivery of the newspaper. Stephen Hills, president and general manager of the Washington Post, made it sound like an even more exclusive club than the average Twitter following, according to WSJ.com
Just two weeks after I was complaining about the Kindle’s presentation of newspapers comes news that Amazon is launching a larger-screen version on Wednesday. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger will share the stage with Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeffrey Bezos at the launch event, according to the Wall Street Journal, which also says that students in some universities will replace their textbooks with the new device.
My colleague and fellow new Kindle owner Felix Salmon likes Amazon’s presentation of newspapers more than I do and has high hopes for the new version, but Om Malik says even an improved device can’t save the newspaper industry.
I’ve been playing with the Amazon Kindle for a little over a week now and while I’m sold on its superiority to printed books it’s no replacement for the newspaper. It’s not so much that the black and white screen renders pictures as murky as a Rorschach inkblot as the fact that there is no easy way to skim through the paper. You can jump between sections via a home page that acts like a very basic website navigation, but there’s no obvious way to navigate within a section. The International link, for example, takes you to the first article in that section. You can see the headline of the next article at the bottom of the page and jump straight to it, but that’s all. There’s no list of all the articles in the section. The only way to skim the headlines is to move forward one article at a time.
This serial navigation is how most of us read print newspapers and has no place as the only option for an electronic edition. But it got me thinking about the ideal features of an electronic newspaper. Obviously you want the freedom to navigate through the content as you wish, but serial navigation has its advantages. One of the pleasures of print is when you turn the page to find a interesting article that you would never have jumped to by choice. The serendipity factor doesn’t feel as high on the traditional newspaper website, despite the plethora of Editor’s Choice modules and Most Read lists.
In what could be the technology world’s equivalent of the first peanut butter and jelly sandwich, gadget makers are working to combine two of their most successful innovations of recent years. They’re spreading touch-screen technology on top of netbooks to create devices that could become as popular as America’s laziest lunch. The creators include Apple, which is widely expected to launch an iPod with a 10-inch touchscreen this year.
Netbooks, which we wrote about here for anyone who needs a primer, have proven wildly popular because of their low prices and quick start-up times. They appeal to people who want a computer just to read their email, check the weather forecast or read the New York Times. In other words, all the things you can do on an iPhone. The iPhone and its cousin the iPod Touch are, in essence, netbooks with small screens and no keyboards.
Bookshops still have many advantages over Amazon.com: they let you pretend that going to the mall is an intellectual pursuit; it’s much easier to judge a book by its cover when you can pick it up before you buy it (embossed letters! amusing cut-outs!); and they are one of the few places where the unattached can use pick-up lines that name-check Dostoevsky. But perhaps the most compelling reason why many of us still depend on our local Barnes & Noble is the instant gratification. The prices on Amazon may be cheaper, but there are times when you absolutely have to have that copy of 1001 Dostoevsky Pick-up Lines now.
For some people, however, that trade-off is no longer a dilemma. These people are the lucky owners of a Kindle, the Amazon electronic book reader, which gives them discount prices plus the instant gratification of over-the-air delivery. For them, buying from Amazon is quicker than going to the bookshop.
CDs and DVDs are headed for extinction and print may follow when some son-of-Kindle replaces newspapers and books, but one piece of low capacity media seems to have no expiry date: the business card. Business cards are the cockroaches of the old media world, apparently destined to survive the apocalypse. Unless you’re incredibly well organized — does anyone buy those card scanners? — your desk is probably littered with these souvenirs of new relationships.
What I want is to be able to exchange this information with the press of a button on my BlackBerry, my iPod or whatever device I happen to be carrying. The Palm products always had the ability to beam a business card to another Palm and the next upgrade to the iPhone software will reportedly do likewise, but this still limits the virtual card swapping to people with the same device. There’s a global standard for formatting the data in electronic business cards — it’s called vCard — but no hardware standard for transmitting and receiving the information.
Starting this blog was a costly decision. To be precise, $359. That’s how much I paid Amazon last night when I ordered a Kindle electronic book reader to kick off my plan to document the impact of digital media.
The Kindle is the missing piece in my digital life. I bought my first digital camera in 2000. I can’t remember the last time I purchase a CD. And since moving to the United States in September, I’ve largely given up DVDs in favor of videos streamed via broadband. My life is largely free of the clutter of silver discs and boxes of photos. The Kindle and devices like it promise to do the same for printed media.