Kindle report: Easy to use

Bob Benz is giving the Kindle a fairly positive initial review.

At breakfast this morning in the Cincinnati airport, I cruised through the Wall Street Journal while I shoveled my Southwestern Omelette into my mouth. This was much easier than juggling a paper, even a tabloid. I’d already started reading the paper on the plane on the way up. (I looked in my mailbox at 5 a.m. to see if the local paper and my print version of the Journal were there yet. No way. I’m lucky when they arrive by 7:30 … but the Kindle version of the Journal had downloaded automatically overnight.)

I’ve seen a lot of the digital hipsters pan the Kindle over flaws ranging from the way it manages digital rights to the look and feel of the thing. There’s merit to some of these complaints, but overall, I really like it and think it’s a big step forward. Wireless and ease of use make it a device that has me geeked.

New Amazon reader great for books; for newspapers, maybe not so much

Will ebooks be a hit?

Jeff Bezos thinks so.

The Kindle is equipped with a Wi-Fi connection that taps into an Amazon e-book store, which users can access to purchase new electronic books–and Amazon has reportedly signed onto a deal with Sprint for EVDO access. Additionally, the device comes with a headphone jack for audiobooks, as well as an e-mail address.

There a have been other attempts to launch ereaders, but they’ve pretty much fizzled in the marketplace.

Can such a release from Amazon work any better? I think so. Maybe. There are some nice synergies for Amazon: Strong customer base of avid readers who are tech savvy and an ample supply of inventory.

I like books and have a hard time imagining doing that much reading electronically, but there was a time I couldn’t imagine watching video on a tiny iPod screen. Now that I have one, I watch more online video than ever.

There may also be good news for newspapers:

The company is also said to have forged agreements with somewhere between 50 and 100 newspaper publishers, in addition to the daily New York Times and Wall Street Journal features. Kindle owners are expected to be able to select from a long list of publications for automatic download.

Our industry has a long history over scheming for inkless paper delivery, but I’m not sure consumers are as eager to experience a newspaper on a device such as this as some hope.

Think about the different formats of books and newspapers — a book is generally just text. It’s really just one long scroll. But newspapers are broken up into discreet chunks presented in a way to feed into a broadsheet or tabloid. And ads are so important. Can that layout be preserved in one of these devices in a way that users will find comfortable and efficient?

I’ll believe it when I see it.

It’s important to remember, I think, that technology won’t necessarily be our savior. Each new advance brings its own challenges, and consumers will ultimately decide the most attractive use for each new device. Publishers have very little control over how digital devices will be used, or how their products will be perceived.

Something mobile could be the coming newspaper killer

Brian Cubbison, who is just down the road from me at the Syracuse Post-Standard, found an interesting quote from Scott Adams.

“Dilbert” creator Scott Adams predicts that newspapers will die out within two upgrades of a cell phone.

“The iPhone, and its inevitable copycats, (let’s call them iClones) are newspaper killers,” he writes in the Dilbert Blog. “When you have a web browser in your pocket, a printed newspaper is redundant.”

He admits that 10 years ago, he predicted newspapers would die out in five years. So maybe newspapers will last for at least four upgrades of a cell phone.

Technology is the biggest competitor news on paper faces.

I’ve said before, technology is changing fast and the speed of change is only accelerating.

If it isn’t the iPhone, it will be something else that poses an even more serious challenge to news on paper than the web does today.

The threat isn’t from all people making the leap. It’s from just enough making the leap to turn newspapers from struggling but still profitable enterprises into money losing empty shells.

No newspaper owner, private or public, not even a “non-profit” one, is going to keep an enterprise going that is losing money and shows no hope of ever making money again.

We simply must get on top of this technology curve and figure out a profitable path.

And think about this — if dumping the print edition on the web isn’t a smart strategy, how much dumber will it be for mobile consumers, who are likely to be even more driven by “tell me what you know now” and “keep it short” than today’s web audience?


Users want control over their devices and their media

The drive for users to control their personal media experience is relentless.

Consider the iPhone — despite Apple’s every efforts to control user experience, people are hacking it and customizing it. Here’s a good video from David Pogue on how to hack your iPhone.

Apple is fighting back, unfortunately, with software updates, and as TechCrunch points out, Steve Jobs needs to take his own advice and “think different” rather than aspire to a telecomm command and control model.

Because, as he has so elegantly demonstrated with the iPhone, these devices are finally becoming little computers. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that consumers will expect them to act like computers. They will want to modify them to their exact, quirky predilections. They will want to use them any way they want, as a general-purpose device.

… You don’t ask Apple permission to download software off the Web for your Mac. And you would never agree to buy a laptop that only worked with only one broadband provider. Why should the iPhone be any different?

As this NYT blog post points out, Apple is fighting a losing battle against customization.

Since the iPhone is a very sleek, capable handheld computer, people are going to want to run programs on it. They are going to want to hack and see what they can build. It’s a law of nature. And Apple might as well be fighting gravity.

Apple essentially has two choices. Either it exposes most of the iPhone’s capabilities to developers. Or it will have to gird for an ever escalating war in which it will have to send ever more electronic brick-bombs to its best customers who don’t follow its strict rules.

It is foolish for any company to think that command and control is a long-term winning strategy.

And what does this have to do with the world? Go back to my posts on personal journalism and campfire media. All of the power now resides with the end user. The sooner newspaper organizations accept that fact, the quicker we will be successful.

We need to be organizing our news gathering and dissemination operations around the power of the end user, not the old command and control model of the editor. The modern news operation is participatory and open. People talk with people, not at them. Digital devices have created if not the expectation of a personal experience with media, at least end result that a personal experience resonates at a higher frequency with users.