Will Amazon's Kindle Rescue Newspapers?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Mike Segar / Reuters

Author Stephen King holds up a pink Amazon Kindle 2 at a news conference in New York City

On Wednesday, Amazon is expected to introduce a new, bigger-screen Kindle aimed at the textbook market and newspapers. The Wall Street Journal reports that half a dozen universities will be giving students the new Kindle in the fall; Amazon has also struck deals with a number of textbook publishers. (See the top 10 gadgets of 2008.)

Joining CEO Jeff Bezos onstage will be New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger — signaling some kind of partnership between the Times and Amazon. It's no secret that Sulzberger has been talking to everyone about how to save the Times; he recently visited Silicon Valley and had a number of salon-style dinners with technocrats offering advice. Amazon's Kindle, however, has already proven to be a promising source of revenue for the newspaper. The Times is already the best-read subscription-based periodical on the current Kindles — though how well read is anyone's guess. (The Wall Street Journal is the second best-read newspaper and has sold a mere 5,000 subscriptions to date.)

The Times has been the most aggressive of all the publishers searching for a solution to the ailing print business. It's common to see a Times product on a new communications device, from the first iPhone to the first Kindle. Later this month, the paper is supposedly coming out with a new Times Reader — the section fronts and archived crossword puzzles free, the rest by subscription — available as an Adobe Air application. It would hardly be surprising then to learn that the newspaper has been quietly working with Amazon to create an even more compelling Kindle-based product that takes advantage of a larger display screen. And if the new Kindle supports variable fonts and renders grayscale photographs? So much the better for it and the rest of the newspapers of the world. (See the 10 most endangered newspapers in America.)

Kindles 1 and 2 helped give trade books a lifeline by wirelessly linking Amazon's online bookstore to the devices and making it easy to buy books. And Kindle 3 will apparently do the same thing for textbooks and newspapers. But what about everyone's favorite periodicals — magazines?

A number of magazines, including this one, have also been available to paid subscribers on the Kindle from the start. But since the device's E-Ink display technology doesn't handle color, let alone high-quality photos, the Kindle has been more of an experiment than a revenue gusher for magazine publishers. E-Ink, which is also on the upcoming Plastic Logic e-reader — its display measuring 8.5 inches by 11 inches — is reportedly nearly two years away from full color.

But magazine fans should not despair: a variety of competitors are also working on color-display technology that's as readable as E-Ink, among them Fujitsu's Flepia, which is already on sale in Japan, and Qualcomm's Mirasol technology, which is being used in smart phones.

So what will emerge on top? The Kindle or some other e-reader? The bigger question is whether readers, used to getting content for free on the Web, will be willing to pay for it on a device that's better suited to reading.

See the 50 best inventions of 2008.

See the 100 best novels of all time.