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New Kindle creates new challenges for publishers

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

May 4, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - 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 that publishers would see 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, whereas they have not 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, for example.

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. Nobody seems to have any easy answers to address that concern.

The truth is that a big-screen Kindle and other, similar products will be vying against a range of upcoming devices that are not e-readers at all, but rather 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 the company will soon be announcing a complete range of devices, possibly from netbooks to e-readers, that can work over AT&T wireless networks. Sprint Nextel Corp. 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 the industry 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?

Publishers will have some tough choices to make.

Read more about Mobile/Wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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