I got some great news on Thursday: The Kindle edition of “The Wired City” is now available at Amazon.com. I do virtually all my book-reading on my iPad using Kindle software, even if I have a hard copy — so I know how important it is to make “The Wired City” available electronically. Thank you for your patience.
Today is the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian scholar who forever changed the way we think about media and their effects on the human psyche.
Last week I sat down for a conversation with Len Edgerly, host of “The Kindle Chronicles,” on what McLuhan would think about the Kindle, the iPad, and what effects e-readers would have on our perception of text, reading and linearity. The interview grew out of my recent review of Douglas Coupland’s McLuhan biography for Nieman Reports.
Len and I had great fun, and I hope you’ll have a chance to give it a listen.
The future of digital newspapers just got a lot more interesting.
The New York Times reports that Amazon has decided to let newspaper and magazine publishers have a 70 percent cut of Kindle revenues, a substantial increase over the current 30 percent. In order to qualify, though, those publishers will have to agree to let Amazon sell subscriptions to anyone who has a device with Kindle software installed on it. (Unlike books, you had to have Amazon’s Kindle hardware device in order to download newspapers and magazines.)
When that happens, you’ll be able to read the Kindle editions of your favorite newspapers and magazines on an iPad, a smartphone or the forthcoming Google tablets.
Given the halting nature of newspaper and magazine rollouts for the iPad (stemming in large measure from a dispute between Apple and publishers over who gets to see customer data), this is a boon on two levels. It gives non-Kindle tablet owners a viable workaround until Apple and the publishers can get their act together — and it provides Apple with a huge incentive to make that happen, along with some rare leverage for the publishers.
Meanwhile, John Ellis points to an analysis showing that paid online distribution may have a future: at Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, online readership is down but revenues are way up since the Times erected a pay wall earlier this year.
The idea that Apple’s iPad would save newspapers and magazines, always dubious, is so far not even getting a decent tryout. Evangelists for the iPad put forth a vision of users switching from free websites to paid apps.
Since a very good Web browser is built in to the iPad, it was never clear why any more than a handful would pay. And, so far, there are few apps. Among the better-known is the New York Times’ “Editor’s Choice,” a free, experimental app that doesn’t include the full content of the paper. (The Globe is reportedly working on an iPad app, but I have no details.)
PressReader offers some 1,500 papers around the world (neither the Times nor the Boston Globe is available, though the Boston Herald is). But it’s based on a PDF-like representation of the actual pages in the paper, which is no way to read online.
Meanwhile, because Apple has been slow in implementing subscriptions, we have absurdities like Time magazine’s paid app, which costs approximately 650 percent more than a print subscription.
If I had an iPad, here’s what I would want: a simple way to subscribe to the papers I read every day at a much-lower-than-print price. Since I wouldn’t pay $30 a month for an always-on 3G connection, I’d want to download the entire paper via WiFi, and then be able to read it whether I was in a hot spot or not.
It’s not as though what I’m looking for is particularly exotic. In fact, two very good alternatives already exist — yet neither one of them will work with the iPad.
First, the Times and the Globe are both available in low-cost “Reader” editions, built on top of the Adobe Air platform. The Reader, based on flipping pages, is seemingly made for the iPad. But because of Apple’s ongoing battle with Adobe, you can’t run Air on an iPad. (The forthcoming Google tablet, running Air, would be a great way to access Reader content.)
Second, many papers are available on the Amazon Kindle. But though Kindle software runs on a variety of devices, including the iPad, Amazon has restricted newspapers and magazines to its proprietary Kindle devices. If you’re running Kindle software on your laptop or smartphone, you can only use it to download and read books.
So far, it seems, the iPad has been very good for Apple, but not so good for newspaper and magazine publishers. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is that there are no good options even for people who are willing to pay.
Back in February, we paid $20 for an 18-month subscription to the print edition of Time magazine. All right, it was a “professional” rate, available to us because I’m a journalism professor. But no one pays the full $4.95-per-issue cover price. If you sign up for a subscription online, for instance, you’ll be charged just $19.95 for six months.
So count Time Warner executives among those who have been sucked into Steve Jobs’ famed “reality-distortion zone.” Because they are groping their way toward a paid-content strategy for Time that makes little or no sense. As explained by the Nieman Journalism Lab here and here, it includes these elements:
- The magazine is now available as an iPad app costing a flat $4.99 per issue — no discounts, thank you very much. The same folks who understand fully that you won’t pay some $250 a year for the print edition think you’ll gladly fork over the money so that you’ll have something to read on your new toy.
- The full content of the print edition has been pulled from Time.com, the magazine’s excellent website. There is still a lot of Web-only content available, much of it more, uh, timely and relevant than what appears in print. But when you try to access most articles from the print product, you get a summary and a plea to buy the magazine or the app.
- The paid app is available only for the iPad, even though it would not be difficult to rewrite it for computers and other devices. (There is a Kindle app for Time that costs a far more reasonable $2.99 per month. Then again, what would Time be without great photography?)
- The Web-only content is not included in the iPad app, which means that Time’s best customers will have to fire up Safari to see what they’re missing. And, of course, if there’s any Flash content on Time.com, they won’t be able to see it unless they switch to their computer. (There is some extra content included in the app.)
The folks at Time started with the right idea. Within the past year or so some pretty smart people have concluded that print and the Web should be used for different things, with the Web being used for breaking news, community and participation. Just as an experiment, it would be interesting to see whether Time could build a successful website without relying on content from the print edition.
But app fever is clouding Time’s judgment. The print edition arrives at Media Nation without fail every Saturday, and we didn’t even have to drop $500 on an iPad to get it. Slick as the app may be, it’s not as slick as glossy paper.
At the moment, Time is not offering a subscription to its app — it’s sold strictly on an issue-by-issue basis. When subscriptions do become available, Time ought to drop the price so that it’s the same as the print edition. Only then will we be able to see if there’s any demand.