Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Best reason yet to offer Kindle subcriptions

What you see above is the e-reader from Plastic Logic, which the Detroit papers say they plan to lease to subscribers in place of print several days a week. On those days, readers will get a combined Free Press and News that runs 32 e-pages.

Certainly, everybody in the industry will be watching to see how they do in Motown. But the point for now is not to dicker about whether they'll be successful. Undoubtedly, they'll adjust and change things as they go. God knows how it'll turn out in the end.

The point is that future business models will likely include some version of this for the rest of us. Some portion of our distribution will be on some type of tablet or e-reader or not-yet-ready-for-prime-time e-paper. In Detroit it's Plastic Logic, elsewhere it'll be Hearst's supposedly in-development e-reader, and in yet other places it'll be other things.

But why not start experimenting now, in a low-cost and low-risk environment? At last count, only 22 U.S. newspapers were available for subscription on Kindle. That leaves about 1,400 other daily papers that probably ought to think about it.

It’s relatively simple, after all, to send an .xml feed to Amazon each night. And if nobody subscribes, you lose nothing but your IT guy's programming time. If several hundred (or several thousand) people subscribe to your paper via Kindle, you gain a slight bump in revenue and begin moving along the e-reader learning curve.

Plus, any subs you get count as paid circulation. (Not sure about the new "verified circulation" model.) A circ bump, no matter where it comes from, is a good thing these days.

Finally, there’s a “soft” benefit to giving the impression, both internally and externally, that your paper is experimenting and trying new things. Fewer than two dozen U.S. newspapers are offered on Kindle now, so there's still a chance to be an early adopter. So what are we all waiting for?

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