Today the buzz of the tech blogosphere has been the coming launch of a new, bigger and thinner Kindle which will target newspapers in a way some are claiming will save the dying industry. MG Siegler is calling it a hail-mary, last-ditch pass that will most likely fail. Dave Winer and Robert Scoble think otherwise, stating the potential for networked devices, and the convenience of such devices to relieve the need to carry multiple books or papers while traveling, or visiting the beach.
I suggest this game is far from over for the Newspaper industry. When I worked at Media General, a large, Publicly-traded media organization that owns Newspapers and TV stations throughout the southeast, we were talking about technologies such as the Kindle even 5 years ago. This stuff isn’t new to them. They know this is the future.
Here’s why I think we’re far from the Newspaper industry going out of business: Paper. The Newspaper industry knows paper – they thrive on it, and their business is dependent on disposable forms of media. They have hundreds of years experience in paper. Media General itself has newspapers that root in the Civil War era. This is the paper you can have delivered to you, which you can throw away when you’re done. There’s something about the tangible feeling of paper that people enjoy. The problem is it’s wasteful and with the amount of paper used, it’s rather expensive. It’s also at times not very convenient.
Enter the Kindle. The Kindle brings the power of Ink technology to digital form, in a single box you can take around with you, download new content, and refresh that content daily as new content arrives. The problem with the Kindle though is it is Amazon’s brand. It’s their power to determine the formats papers need to be in, and what they look like. It’s their power to determine revenue models. Newspapers still have their own brand to maintain. Relying on one technology for that won’t work.
In addition, the Kindle still doesn’t quite hit that disposable paper niche that Newspapers are so good at. The power of the Newspaper industry is that they are local – they currently own the media distribution of entire cities and towns, and know those towns in a way no other media entity can know. For this reason, having a local paper-boy deliver a disposable paper to your door adds to that personal touch – nothing digital can replace that in-person relationship people have with their local Newspaper. Add to that the local relationships with local businesses and the ability to generate very personalized ads thanks to those relationships. It’s hard to beat that with a much larger, digital entity.
In essence, in a timeline of events, we have gone in our world’s history from tablet forms of writing – gold, brass, slate, and more, to paper form, to ink forms of writing on top of paper and mass distribution because of that via the printing press and computers. Now with the Kindle, we’re going back from Paper form, back to the tablet. It’s a non-disposable, re-usable form of writing.
I predict this cycle will repeat itself. We actually already have the technology in front of us. Last year we saw Esquire magazine release a magazine with a cover written in digital ink, along with a digital ad for Ford on the back. They’ve proven it’s possible, and they were able to fully maintain their brand by doing so.
What will happen is memory technology will get smaller and smaller for the amount of memory you can store content like Newspapers. Batteries are already getting smaller. The technology you see on the Kindle today will be able to be produced in tangible Paper form in 2 years I predict. At that time, you’ll see the News stands full of single sheets of paper, the dimensions of the new Kindle, but in disposable, paper form, with the Newspaper corporation’s brand and advertising all over it. You’ll be able to purchase it for not much more than the price of a single newspaper today (in theory, it ought to be cheaper to produce). It will integrate with Facebook. It will integrate with other viral technologies. It will even potentially have GPS, not just for networking and viral promotion, but for ad analytics and tracking, making the Newspapers valuable again.
While the newspapers are dying now, I predict they’ll be back. This technology is just around the corner in affordable measures from us. Will the Kindle survive? I think so, but I don’t think it will fully compete with the Newspapers. I think it’s Apples and Oranges – the Kindle is presenting an entirely new distribution mechanism that will manifest itself on many other devices as well. Paper itself is not going away. It is going digital.
Photo courtesy mstearne.