Stop The Press!

by Kevin Slimp

Stop The Press!
I had a journalism teacher in seventh grade who told the class how she once ran into the press room yelling those words. Apparently, she had gotten some facts wrong while writing a story for a daily paper. Her first attempt at stopping the presses didn’t work. She was told by the lead pressman that she’d have to bring something to him in writing. So she went back to her desk and typed, “Stop the presses!”

Her second attempt worked.

Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken at several press association conventions on two topics that have filled rooms. The first, Converging Media: Online Journalism, relates to new ways newspapers are using technology to compete with other forms of media. The second, New Technology For Newspapers, is a chance to show off some of the newest gadgets and hardware, as well as compare current and upcoming software products. I could always count on a line of folks waiting to visit after speaking on these topics. Recently, with the advent of Amazon’s Kindle, most folks in line want to take a look at this new gadget that’s getting so much press.

The Kindle is a device that is literally stopping a lot of presses. And many of the presses that haven’t stopped are spitting out books, magazines and newspapers at a slower rate.

Introduced by Amazon in November, the Kindle is an e-book reader. No one is reporting how many Kindles sold when first released, but we do know that Amazon sold out in less than six hours. I placed my order for a Kindle, hoping to see firsthand what all the fuss was about. When I learned that Kindles were on back-order, I checked eBay. Kindles were selling on eBay for $900 each. I decided to wait. It took two months, but my Kindle finally arrived.

A little about the Kindle. It’s about the size of a small paperback book. Using a new high-resolution display technology called “electronic paper,” the Kindle reads more like a book than a computer screen. And, by adjusting a dial, the user can make the text appear larger or smaller on the screen. So much for wishing the Kindle was hard to read. Using wireless technology called Whispernet, the Kindle uses standard cellphone signals in the U.S. to download books, newspapers and magazines. While not available in other countries yet, primarily due to issues related to wireless technology, it’s rumored that Kindle will begin showing up in Europe before too long. My guess is that we’ll be seeing Kindles in Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia as soon as Amazon can create enough e-readers to satisfy the demand in the U.S. If not, a similar product is sure to come along.

Customers shop from the Kindle Store wirelessly. No need for a computer. Orders can be processed and downloaded directly from the Kindle.

My first purchase was a newspaper. I clicked on the “home” button, selected “Newspapers” form the list of choices and selected The New York Times. From there, I had two options. The first allowed me to receive the newspaper free for two weeks. It would automatically download and appear in my list of purchases each morning. After two weeks, customers are billed for their subscriptions unless they cancel them online. The second option was to download the current issue. I chose the first option (yes, I cancelled my subscription after a few days). I didn’t get my watch out, but it seemed to take less than ten seconds for my first issue to arrive on the Kindle.

Next, I purchased a single issue of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Buying a single issue cost the normal purchase price. A monthly Kindle subscription to AJC was $5.99, compared to $10.99 for the printed version.

I wondered how hard it would be to list a book for sale on Kindle. I decided to try listing my wife’s recent book. Sure enough, I found the Web site and was instructed to enter the ISBN code for the book, a PDF of the cover and either a PDF or HTML file of the book. I designated a price and, within a few minutes, her book was listed on Kindle.

OK, here’s the scoop: I liked some things about Kindle and I didn’t like some. As far as books are concerned, it seemed just as easy to read a book on Kindle. Magazines and newspapers were a different story.

While the experience was quite different, I especially missed the photos and ads. Kindle newspapers - at least the ones I’ve read - are all text.

Don’t jump for joy yet. Here’s why I think it’s important for us to be familiar with Kindle, as well as other new technologies that impact our business. Reading a newspaper might not be the same experience on Kindle and newspapers might not feel an immediate impact in sales. However, you can bet this month’s paper bill that Kindle - and other devices like it - will improve with time. Instead of worrying about this technology, newspapers would be wise to take advantage of it. Rather than pretending it won’t affect us, we might consider finding out how we can get our newspapers on Kindle. Not because we’ll make money from it, but to help us prepare for whatever technology comes along next.

Radio, television and the Internet all threatened our existence. Instead of closing our doors, newspapers found ways to compete and prosper. E-reading might be the next technological advance to compete for our readers. With a little forward thinking, we can take advantage of the new audience Kindle (and whatever comes next) offers.

Kindles are currently available only to customers in the U.S. at Amazon.com. The Kindle retails for $399 (U.S.).