eReaders Aplenty, Print Death Looming?

10Nov09

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Sitting on my desk are two piles. One is smaller than the other. They are both stacks of magazines that arrive in my mailbox on a weekly and monthly basis. The larger pile are all the magazines from the last three months that I haven’t even had a chance to flip through. With so much reading material available on the web, the amount of time I devote to print media has lessened to my subway ride and lunch breaks – and then it’s only if I’m not tired; on my iPod touch reading digital news or have my netbook out.

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Amazon’s Kindle aimed to bring print media digitally in a device that had e-ink technology. It’s goal is to use e-ink to reproduce the matte-ness of paper, straining eyes less (backlit LCDs strain eyes over long periods of time). The first Kindle was an ugly geometric little device. The second gen Kindle brought curves to the device and the next evolution of the Kindle brings a bigger screen, but also bigger case. All of that is nice, but it is still a niche market. The Kindle isn’t cheap, originally $300 and now $259. Books and magazines are still cheaper. With Barnes and Nobles bringing some competition with their Nook e-reader, Amazon isn’t the only big player anymore. Barnes and Nobles is in the market to sell books, and if a big book seller starts selling e-readers, it means the threat of moving on to digital is there, and coming fast. Other companies such as Sony and iRiver have dabbled in the category, but with little success against Amazon. Barnes and Nobles’s Nook may actually give the Kindle a run for its money; priced at $259 (Amazon dropped Kindle to match the Nook’s).

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But hardware isn’t enough. We need content. Google’s digitization of over 10 million books shouldn’t be taken lightly either. What are they planning? Their motto may be “do no evil” but how long will that last? Creating the Chrome OS & Android as open source OSes with staying power is just the first step I feel. The OSes could lead to true hardware development in the future. With 10 million books in digital format and more being scanned by the day, a quick domination to transform print media into digital could be on the backburner.

A good friend of mines, Bruce (say hi, he regularly comments here) and I almost made a bet that staked the future of the magazine industry. The question was how long would magazines and newspapers last for? Five, ten, or twenty years? With so many magazines and newspapers shutting down this year or moving to online only, the future of print looks bleak. The bet hasn’t been made, but it has gotten me to think about the longevity magazines. How long before they become completely non-existent? Who will transform the magazine industry and bring it into the digital age?

At the risk of sounding like a complete fanboy, many peg the only company that can truly transition the print industry to digital successfully may very well be Apple. Fortune Magazine just named CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs the CEO of the decade for transforming not just one, but four distinct industries in the last 10 years; telecom, music, computers, and movies. With so much experience, Jobs and Apple may just be the right candidate.

Rumors have been popping up on tech blogs for years now of the mysterious Apple “tablet.” Everybody is claiming to have information about it, the same hype that the iPhone came into the world with. Speculations range from a device sub $1000, but not under $500 with an 8-10″ touch screen that runs a mobile version of OS X, much like the iPhone and iPod touch but not as limited. A 10″ screen device would be right in the range of an e-reader…So a product in between an iPhone and a MacBook. This so called “tablet” could also fend off stiff competition from netbook sales. Aside from the hardware rumors, last month, we heard things about Apple approaching large media/publishing companies in Australia. This could all be rumor fodder, but if Jobs is shopping around with content providers, then their mysterious device could be big potential.

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2 Responses to “eReaders Aplenty, Print Death Looming?”

  1. Possibly with magazines and newspapers that come out periodically and are usually read and discarded, I can see print disappearing and electronic being the dominant form. It would save a lot of paper if nothing else and they wouldn’t be printing papers that wouldn’t be sold and will be tossed the next day because they contain ‘old’ news. I don’t see the same happening with books. Certainly there are those who already claim e-readers being the way of the future and the like, but the electronic form doesn’t have the same personal comfort and emotional connection many people experience with books. Maybe that won’t count for much, but I think, long term, there is going to be room for both.
    Thanks for a really interesting read.

  2. hello hello! Print will never die. Digital will slowly take over, but there’s a bit of a connection with print, with holding, feeling your content. You can tell the different in the quality of paper in Wired or the New Yorker, and those suddleties are what makes print so damn cool. The polybag, the special gifts, just holding it on the train. Many magazines died these past two years, but many survived, things look bleak, but they always rebound. Digital is the new kid on the playground and will kick a lot of ass, but think about a world with no print, no magazines, no books. Less face to face time, more 2nd hand accounts, more meetings over the net. I think that’s depressing and people won’t let that happen. Nice post.


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