Did you by any chance catch last week’s edition of The Money Programme
on BBC2? If not, then the episode entitled ‘Media Revolution: Stop Press?
‘ is still available on the BBC iPlayer
and is well worth a watch if you have more than a passing obsession with both the media and technology. (We do.)
Among many other interesting things, the programme saw Janet Street-Porter examining the declining fortunes of the print media industry. Falling circulations, reductions in advertising revenues, economic strife, and above all, our changing lifestyles have been blamed for the fact that some of our most familiar newspaper brands are likely to disappear over the next decade.
Of course, the ready availability of multiple free quality news resources online was always going to have a dramatic effect on the number of paper-based products a finite audience would continue to shell out for. Not only are we now familiar with reading our favourite ‘papers’ comfortably at our desks without charge, we are also happy watching and listening to the news online gratis as well, freeing up our inkless hands to eat posh bagels or share the inevitable wealth of bad news from our keyboards.
Unsurprisingly, none of this slow turning but inevitable revolution is being lost on Rupert Murdoch, the always controversial and now venerable head of NewsCorp. This man who has helped drive the global transformation of our tabloids, television, online news and commercial social networks now has his sights on a new, literally more hands-on source of information – the e-book reader. Why? Or more accurately, why now?
Catching up on the news on the move is of course nothing new – far from it. Like many others I regularly get my fix of the BBC, Guardian, Indie and the rest on the train thanks to my iPhone, and of course, a Blackberry, MiniPC or pretty much any smartphone can also do a similar job to varying degrees of success. So why the concurrent fascination with e-book readers? There must be a significant early adopter incentive in it for the likes of Amazon, Sony, Sprint, Fox and the rest for them to throw their weight (and R&D; cash) behind the e-book concept, and Amazon’s take on it in particular?
Murdoch told The Money Programme: “Everybody wants choice and thanks to the personal computer, people are taking charge of their own lives and they read what they want to read or what they are interested in and young people today are living on their computers. The world is changing and newspapers have to adapt to that.” He continued: “I don’t think it’s available in England yet, but there’s a wonderful new machine called the Kindle. You can store six or 10 books in it or you can have a newspaper subscription on it and you get every word of the newspaper for a subscription rate. And it’s mobile. You don’t need to plug it into anything. It all comes over the airwaves.”
Murdoch actually underestimates the capabilities of the Kindle, but you get the gist. Amazon.com announced a slimmer, prettier Kindle 2 just this week, which includes more storage, improved battery life and some other nifty new features, Sadly it also holds on to its anything but nifty original $359 price tag. Amazon sold half a million of the fatter, uglier, older ones in 2008, so many industry observers perhaps understandably believe the digital reading market is now ready to go stellar when the Kindle 2 goes on sale next week.
Personally, I don’t believe we’re anywhere like ready for widespread adoption of the Kindle just yet. I had a play with a similar e-book, the Sony Reader, in UK High Street bookshop Waterstones recently, and wasn’t convinced. The matt screen was terrific, the variable reading speeds were great, the desirability was definitely there to an extent. But the device itself felt somewhat fragile, and even the £225 price tag of this more dated device with less capacity, simply isn’t realistic. It also makes me think the vendor community isn’t sufficiently behind the concept at this stage to make even a tentative push into a mass market space. When a humble phone can be loaded up with scrolling books for free or minimal expense, and a friendly paperback is just £5.99 on the very next shelf, £200-£300+ is just too much of a leap for a one-trick-plus pony, however elegant.
Also, perhaps, it is our culture that has some way to progress. When on the rare occasions I have noted someone struggling to find space on the tube to read their Kindle, my first thought isn’t: “That’s a cool, sensible gadget, I wish I had one”. More likely it’s: “That cost her over £300. I think I’d choose a crumpled free paper at close to midnight in Shepherds Bush, or stick with the old Nokia.” And maybe that’s the rub – e-books may need a few more years yet to win our hearts, minds AND wallets.
Amazon launched its first Kindle in November 2007. The latest Kindle has 2GB memory (enough for 1500 books and more than enough newspapers, magazines or personal documents) and 25 per cent longer battery life. It also has a ‘Read-to-me’ widget that turns text into spoken word. It is already available for preorder and will ship from 24th February in the US only.
Amazon UK told The Times: “We are looking internationally and we know that customers are looking forward to getting their hands on a Kindle but we have no announcement to make at this time.” The Times also reported that Amazon shares fell nearly one per cent to $66 after the recent launch of the Kindle 2 by CEO Jeff Bezos.