New Kindle creates new challenges for publishers

A bigger-screen version of the e-book reader can offer opportunity for struggling newspaper publishers, but also more risk

Amazon.com Inc. is expected to announce a big-screen Kindle e-reader this week, and many are already wondering if newspaper and magazine publishers will benefit.

There are several reasons to think publishers will find advantages in such a device, especially during a period when newspaper and magazine readership is in decline.

One big potential advantage is that publishers would suddenly have the ability to charge for subscriptions that they have not had with the content on their Web sites.

But some publishers are also reportedly worried that the experience of reading on early-generation black and white e-readers won't be as engaging as flipping through a flashy travel magazine.

Even so, a bigger concern is how an e-reader subscription model might succeed if a competitor's news content is still offered for free, or mostly free, over the Web. For that concern, nobody seems to have any easy answers.

The truth is that a big-screen Kindle, and others to come, will be vying against a range of upcoming devices that are not e-readers at all, but are Web-connected devices using wireless. Apple Inc. may introduce a multipurpose tablet computer later in 2009, for example.

There will be many devices to access and transmit content wirelessly, as Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T Mobile, stated at Go Mobile 2009 today. While Lurie would not divulge any specific plans for an e-reader backed by AT&T, he said that AT&T will be announcing soon a complete range of devices, possibly from netbooks to e-readers, that can work over AT&T wireless networks. Sprint Nextel Inc. today provides the wireless network used by the Kindle.

"There will be many different types of devices and e-readers going forward, some small, some medium, some large," Lurie said in an interview. "It's important to be inclusive."

The problem facing newspaper and magazine publishers will not be a lack of wireless technologies for consumers to use. As is often the case with new technology, it will be a question of how the publishing business implements it. Will they stay with Web-based newspapers or move to Kindle-type wireless subscriptions? How long a transition will there be from the older technology to the new? And how quickly?

These publishers will have some tough choices to make.

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