Sunday, September 7, 2008

Kindle—any promise as a news delivery tool?

Can Kindle become the iPod of news?

It's got a lot going for it, but probably not, in its present incarnation. The Kindle was introduced a little less than a year ago by Amazon. The company won't say how many units it has sold, or how many e-books have been purchased by Kindle owners, or how many newspaper subscriptions. There's plenty of content available—currently 160,000 book titles, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, according to Amazon. But what concerns us here is news: right now, there are exactly 25 newspapers available, which is not a lot. They include the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, London Times, Le Monde, and Shanghai Daily, at prices ranging from $5.99 to $14.99 a month.

So, for well under the newsstand or home delivery price, you can be reading your favorite paper on an e-book reader, but the gadget will cost you $359. This is progress? Oh, you can also get your choice of a couple of dozen blogs like Huffington Post, Slashdot, Boing Boing, or The Onion for $1.99 a month, or one of 17 magazines for a $1.25 to $3.49.

Now, the trouble is, (a) no color, (b) most of this content is available for free online, wherever you can connect to the internet on your desk- or laptop. My normal morning surfing would add up to $100 or more a month, and a lot of other things I look at online are simply not reachable via Kindle.

But hold on, there's a solution. Via Feedbooks, you can create your own personalized newspaper from multiple RSS feeds. (The trouble with this is, of course, that while you can get the news mix you want, you're doing the kind of personal aggregation possible also at sites like DailyMe, for which the media creating the content get little or no revenue. But still, from a publisher's point of view, perhaps eyeballs are better than no eyeballs.)

The Kindle may well be the best-selling e-book reader around (allegedly 280,000 units sold), although there's no way to know for sure. What's next for Kindle? Several sources are rumoring an imminent 2.0 version: one with a larger, better screen, thinner body, and more streamlining in general. And Amazon also seems to be eyeing a truly logical market: e-textbooks.

A bigger user base is probably a prerequisite for more news dissemination via the Kindle, or any other e-book reader. So improvements in the Kindle's functionality features are steps in the right direction. But along with major and minor tweaks, it will take some major cost reductions to turn it into a more widely used tool for reading news.

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