Thursday, September 11, 2008

Newspapering for Dummies. Really.

This is the gadget publishers think will save their newspapers.

They are mistaken. The only thing that will save newspapers is if publishers stick their heads in the oven.


HERE'S THE DEAL: The doomaflatchie above, called the Plastic Logic reader, is supposed to be like a big Kindle, allowing for display of something approaching a print newspaper in size and style. Presumably, it will sell for a Kindlelike price.

The New York Times
has a story about the Plastic Logic reader -- on its website:
The electronic newspaper, a large portable screen that is constantly updated with the latest news, has been a prop in science fiction for ages. It also figures in the dreams of newspaper publishers struggling with rising production and delivery costs, lower circulation and decreased ad revenue from their paper product.

While the dream device remains on the drawing board, Plastic Logic will introduce publicly on Monday its version of an electronic newspaper reader: a lightweight plastic screen that mimics the look — but not the feel — of a printed newspaper.

The device, which is unnamed, uses the same technology as the Sony eReader and’s Kindle, a highly legible black-and-white display developed by the E Ink Corporation. While both of those devices are intended primarily as book readers, Plastic Logic’s device, which will be shown at an emerging technology trade show in San Diego, has a screen more than twice as large. The size of a piece of copier paper, it can be continually updated via a wireless link, and can store and display hundreds of pages of newspapers, books and documents.

Richard Archuleta, the chief executive of Plastic Logic, said the display was big enough to provide a newspaperlike layout. “Even though we have positioned this for business documents, newspapers is what everyone asks for,” Mr. Archuleta said.

The reader will go on sale in the first half of next year. Plastic Logic will not announce which news organization will display its articles on it until the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, when it will also reveal the price.

Kenneth A. Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive Media, said, “We are hopeful that we will be able to distribute our newspaper content on a new generation of larger devices sometime next year.” While he would not say what device the company’s papers would use, he said, “we have a very strong interest in e-newspapers. We’re very anxious to get involved.”
WELL . . . OK. Fine.

You have to wonder why someone would plop down a few hundred bucks for something that does a lot less than a cheap laptop you can buy for the same price. But . . . OK, I guess.

Here, however, is where the whole scheme goes really wrong. And it is because newspaper executives are idiots.

Worse than that, they are greedy idiots:

If e-newspapers take off, the savings could be hefty. At the The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, print and delivery amount to 65 percent of the paper’s fixed expenses, Mr. Bronfin said.


Papers face a tough competitor: their own Web sites, where the information is free. And they have trained a generation of new readers to expect free news. In Holland, the iLiad comes with a one-year subscription for 599 euros ($855). The cost of each additional year of the paper is 189 euros ($270). NRC offers just one electronic edition of the paper a day, while Les Echos updates its iRex version 10 times a day.

A number of newspapers, including The New York Times, offer electronic versions through the Kindle device; The Times on the Kindle costs $14 a month, similar to the cost of other papers. “The New York Times Web site started as a replica of print, but it has now evolved,” said Michael Zimbalist, vice president for research and development operations at The New York Times Company. “We expect to experiment on all of these platforms. When devices start approximating the look and feel of a newspaper, we’ll be there as well,” Mr. Zimbalist said.

LET'S SEE. If I have a laptop -- some of which you can buy for not much more than a Kindle -- I would want to pay money to get an inferior version of what I already get online for free. . . .

I'm sorry, I think I was about to pose a wholly unnecessary question.

The only thing that possibly could be stupider than that would be if newspapers killed off their websites in favor of a Kindlized subscription product. One that couldn't match its present multimedia offerings online.

You think you have carnage in the newspaper industry now. . . .

Only newspaper publishers would expect people to pay full-subscription price for a product that's less functional than their dead-tree editions, then pay hundreds more for a thingamajig to read it on. This when you can get the same thing online for free somewhere, even if not from The Daily Blab.

Only newspaper publishers would do such a thing after eliminating 65 percent of their fixed operating expenses -- especially when subscription and single-copy sales account for just 20 percent of revenue, roughly.

Assuming a newspaper could bring a sizable majority of its print advertising over to an electronic edition when print is no more -- And, really, where would those print advertisers go? -- you'd have to think the bottom line would look so much healthier than it does today.

Even if you gave your product away.

CHARGING READERS two or three Benjamins a year for a product you were coming out ahead on by its very printing-plant-free nature is just avaricious. And avarice doesn't fly in the new-media world.

Now, fellas . . . when you stick your heads in that oven, make sure it's a natural-gas model. All-electric would be such a horrible way to go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It would not work with a gas oven either, because natural gas (essentially methane) is non-toxic. It's the old town gas (mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, obtained by gasification of coal) that you need for such a purpose, but it's hardly produced these days. I really wonder why.