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Shifting reading habits

New figures last week from Amazon.com suggest that the bookseller’s customers are ready and willing to make the move to digital.

In each of the last three months, Amazon reports that sales of books for its Kindle e-reader have outpaced the sale of hardcover books, and that growth is only accelerating, according to  Mashable.com.

E-book sales topped hardcover briefly last year, but these are sustained numbers over the course of a quarter.

Some of the increase — 163 percent in the month of May and 207 percent year-to-date through May — can be attributed to a price cut for the Kindle. But that’s not the whole story since Amazon makes its e-books available through apps on other devices.

It’s no coincidence that the uptick also coincides with the launch of the iPad, which sold 3 million units in its first three months, two of which are included in Amazon’s numbers.

The shift at Amazon is “astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

Amazon doesn’t say how many digital books it sold during any of the periods it cites. As of early June, Apple said it had sold 5 million books and had already gained about a quarter of the digital book market.

Really new media

Ben and Mike with Dad

Ben and Mike with Dad

Our boys arrived Thursday morning, July 1, and I couldn’t be happier. Everyone came home from the hospital yesterday and we’re all doing fine, getting to know each other and establishing new routines.

As I was trying to get Benjamin to burp after a feeding yesterday, I was looking at his eyes and thinking about all the things he and his brother Michael will see. The world has changed pretty quickly in the last 10-20 years and it’s only likely to pick up speed.

They’ll grow up around books — in one form or another. We have lots of books in the house and there are already two or three Dr. Seuss books waiting for them on my iPad. Will that be the standard when they learn to read? When they start high school or college?

What will computers look like when they’re old enough to use one? Some experts already are showing that the growth of tablets is edging out demand for netbooks. PC’s — though still selling well — are a shrinking part of computer sales, especially when compared to laptops. Mobile is obviously the wave of the future.

Their entertainment options will likely be mostly digital as well. We have an iPod speaker base in their room and I’ll be setting up a lullaby playlist soon. Later, I’m sure our DVR will store lots of their favorite shows.

Like older kids today who don’t know what 45′s were and learned to tell time on a digital clock, will these guys have any use for a DVD or CD in a few years?

The answers will be determined at the crossroads of advancing technology and consumer interest.

But we may have to read The Cat in the Hat tonight on the iPad, just to start down the digital road.

‘Wired’ scores on first iPad edition

A friend of mine was waiting for a flight recently and called to tell me that he was reading Wired magazine.

“And I can keep reading it when the plane takes off; they won’t make me put it away,” he said, clearly comparing his version with the first edition of Wired I’d just downloaded to the iPad.

“Sure, but can you watch a video clip from the Pixar story or get a 360-degree look at Iron Man’s suit?” I asked.

“No.”

“How about audio files? Does it play audio files?”

“No.”

“Mine does.”

“The little subscription cards probably don’t fall out of yours either, do they?”

“Nope.”

Along with the full text of the print edition, mine had more than 40 pieces of multimedia or interaction points. We paid the same price for both editions of the magazine, but I know mine was more fun to browse. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing the new rules

Ask any newspaper editor where his company went wrong online and most will say, “We should have found a way to charge for the content.”

Though I’d argue that paper’s aren’t really “giving away” their online content (there is ad support, albeit not the kind that pays when compared to print ads), the new wave of delivery platforms may offer a chance for some news organizations to hit the reset button.

Each new platform will needs to find an audience. Once that happens, it’s up to content providers to decide how to package their product for that platform and what the traffic will bear in terms of pricing.

E-readers, like the Kindle and Nook, have found an audience (though the size of that group is a question). Both established that their products — mainly books, in this case — would be cheaper to buy in this format, but not free.

With the rules of the platform established, newspapers and magazines followed publishers to the e-reader market with subscription-based products. They already knew the people who owned these devices were willing to pay for content.

A single copy of the Columbus Dispatch will set you back $1 on the newsstand. It’s also a $1 on a Sony e-reader and  75 cents on a Kindle or Nook.

The same stories are free online and it’s iPhone app is free as well. (The rules for iPhone apps aren’t hard and fast, but free seems to be winning that fight.)

But when the paper develops an iPad app, how will it approach pricing? Read the rest of this entry »

Do I need an app for that?

If your news organization hasn’t issued an iPhone app yet, you’re late to the party. You should be working on something for  Google’s mobile operating system (Android) as well.

But before you gear up for your own iPad app, you need to ask a few questions:The Huffington Post iPad app

What can we do with an iPad app that we aren’t already doing on the website?

The answer to this question is critical. If you can’t come up with a good answer, you can stop thinking about investing any effort in an iPad app right now.

Many news organizations built apps for mobile phones because the functionality of their website was severely limited on the smaller screens.

But calling that same website up on the iPad with its 9.7-inch diagonal screen is different. In many cases, this will be enough for many news operations to take a pass on developing a new app. Plus, if their iPhone app was done well, it looks fine on the iPad, especially with the option to use it in its original size or a 2X version.

If you can’t come up with a way to use an iPad app to enhance the user experience you’re already offering on the website, you might want to rethink the project. Creating templates and sending updates via RSS probably isn’t going to provide a better user experience.

It’s also very possible that you’ll be providing less functionality in an iPad app if you’re not prepared to find substitutes for Flash video players or other widgets offered on the website. I was surprised to see this was the case with the Huffington Post’s iPad app. It was really a watered down version of the website. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for a digital hero

Newspapers need a digital hero.

Last spring, I was at a journalism event and the discussion at the dinner table turned to the newly announced Kindle DX, which was due to begin shipping in a few weeks. People were excited about the DX because it offered a larger screen than the original Kindle, which might make it more suitable for presenting and reading electronic editions of a newspaper.

I was asked my opinion about it and I said that I would wait on buying a Kindle because there was a rumor that Apple was going to launch some kind of giant iPod Touch device, possibly as soon as that summer. If that were true, I said, I’d rather have something with a color screen and more capabilities than just an e-reader.

That June came and went with no announcement. But the rumors persisted and were finally confirmed in January with the announcement of the iPad.

Since its release in April, there have been a lot of side-by-side comparisons of these devices. The Kindle generally scores better when the weight of the units is concerned or the visibility of the screens are compared. But the iPad scores points for just about everything else.

While the Kindle is an excellent e-reader, is that enough to maintain its sales? Can it hold off the charge of the iPad when the low-end Apple device costs only $10 more than the DX, which is similar in size? Can the Kindle be the device the news industry needs now when it’s grayscale screen is stuck in the past and it doesn’t handle video or let users surf the Web when they’re done reading?

We know the iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months, but Amazon has never released sales numbers for the Kindle. That makes me suspect that they aren’t very impressive. After being on sale for nearly three years, it’s believed Kindle sales topped 3 million earlier this year.

On top of that, even Amazon must see the writing on the touchscreen since it has a Kindle app on the iPad and iPhone. (Oddly, one of the screenshots of the iPad app shows a color photo on one of the pages — something you can’t see on a real Kindle yet.)

The iPad option for news organizations isn’t without it’s problems, but as a potentially useful device, it begins to make the road ahead a little clearer. By rethinking and reinvigorating the tablet concept, it might pave the way for a print alternative in a way the Kindle — at least in its present form — can’t hope to achieve.

News in the age of augmented reality

In the last 30 years, the newspaper industry has moved from typewriters to laptops, from “hot” type to “cold” and from black and white to color photos. It’s now in the process of moving from print to digital, which is what I intend to make my primary topic for this course.

I’ve experienced the other changes over the last three decades and I’m on the front line of the next change.

During the recent economic downturn, many newspapers shed jobs to keep the doors open. It didn’t always work. Many closed; others cut staff and tried to make a living online.

One thing they all tried to do was keep their content in front of as many readers as possible. That meant expanding online operations, going mobile and getting into social media.

As part of the Web team at Dispatch.com, I’ve encountered all of those aspects. I’m constantly trying to learn about new tools and how they might be applied in our operation.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a knack for spotting interesting digital trends.

I didn’t invent podcasting, but I saw its value in the early days and launched a show — a first for any newspaper. I set up Twitter and Facebook accounts for the paper as experiments long before most of my peers became interested in them. They’ve both slowly gained a following.

Many publications are using these tools today as alternate avenues to deliver news or bring more readers to their websites.

So, what’s on the horizon?

I’m still trying to figure out how to get us involved in foursquare, I think QR codes could be an overlooked gem and augmented reality seems like it could a transformative engine. I hope we’ll finally decide to adopt CoveritLive soon and I wonder if there’s a place for a Tumblr or Posterous blog in our toolbox. I’m also really excited about the prospects of using the iPad in publishing — maybe not for the daily product, but certainly for niche publications our company produces.

Our company doesn’t have someone assigned to “bird-dog” new tools. As we grow, I’d like to be that guy and I hope my blog entries will help make that happen.

Do I pick a topic or does it pick me?

A quick look at links I’ve been posting to Facebook lately tells me that — surprise — I seem to have a deep interest in digital media, its delivery on various devices (especially the iPad) and the transformation of the news industry.

That’s probably due in large part because I’m part of the news industry, I work in digital media and I own an iPad and other mobile devices. Go figure.

Mashable.com and the Nieman Journalism Lab are two of my favorite sites and provide a lot of interesting source material. Through those sites and others, I’ve tried to keep track of how various news organizations are dealing with paywalls, developing mobile apps and other aspects of our changing industry.

I’ve already formed a few opinions about what will and won’t work and under what circumstances some of these ideas will succeed or fail. Some of those ideas have been shared with colleagues in and out of the newsroom. I’ve even written about a few for other classes using this blog.

That will probably be the thrust of my writing in #506DE as well.

Saving a few more trees

I had been meaning to buy my textbooks for #512DE this week and finally went on Amazon.com last night to put in my order. (I’d already checked the iTunes bookstore and didn’t see them listed.)

When I found them on Amazon, I noticed that both had Kindle editions. I also noticed the Kindle versions were about $10 less than the dead-tree editions. So, I bought them both.

I don’t own a Kindle. But I do have an iPad.

Early on, well before the iPad, Amazon developed a Kindle reader app or the iPhone. Now there’s a full version for the iPad as well. I downloaded that and figured I’d buy a few things to give it a shot.

I’m impressed enough with the results. But more importantly, I can carry those books — and hundreds more — all at one time in the iPad. And no trees were killed in their printing.

When I bought the iPad, I was hoping I’d be able to find some of my textbooks before I was done with the master’s program. Looks like I’m off to a pretty good start.

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