Thursday, November 4, 2010

Amazon Is Early Ebook Winner, But E-Newspaper & E-Magazine Dominance Is Up For Grabs

By Tom Dulaney, Editor
The latest upheaval in the struggle for e-publishing sales dominance moved full force into e-newspaper and e-magazine sales this week.

The New York Times is right on the fissure of this quake, with one foot in the Amazon Kindle Store by way of its subscription for a product that is black and white (and read not quite all over). The other foot is in the Apple iStore, with a newly-enriched app giving readers the words, the photos and the graphics that suit the iPad so well.

The Times seemed to forget its faithful Kindle subscribers when it upgraded its app for the iPad in the Apple iStore. Without an app like “Kindle for iPad“ that extends the “buy once, read anywhere” ability to non-Kindle devices, the Times on the Kindle device is at a disadvantage.

And on top of that issue, the Times only in recent days expanded its Amazon Kindle free trial subscription from two weeks to the two months buyers in the Apple Store were getting. But what to do about past Times subscribers in the Kindle store? They got only two free weeks as introductory offer and now see the “later comers” in both the Kindle Store and the iStore getting two free months? 

(In the confusion, in the Kindle Store the Times is selling both a $19.99 monthly subscription with only a two-week free trial and a two-month free trial.)

Kindle Nation Daily Editor Stephen Windwalker, publisher of Planet iPad, went to bat for all Kindle Times readers, urging his contacts at Amazon to pass the word that something should be done for the faithful reading their Time's on Kindles. Here's a link to his report on that.
Meantime, Amazon “leaked” word that this year it will enable newspaper and magazine reading by Kindle Store subscribers on non-Kindle devices like the iPad, just as they do books. The announcement came in an Amazon forum called “Coming Soon For Kindle.” No date for the apps' arrival has been given yet.

The larger picture is this: Who will be the dominant force in sales for electronically delivered newspapers and magazines?

Amazon clearly held the lead for the last few years: It was virtually the only game in town for reading the newspaper or a magazine on a portable device. Limitations in color and photo display forced the e-versions of periodicals to be pale shadows of their print selves.

The growing vitality of e-magazines was just confirmed with the listing of the Top 10 Apps for US periodicals, announced by McPheter's Company. 

On the newspaper side of the issue, The Times in the UK announced its subscription e-newspaper figures,suggesting readers are willing to pay for quality journalism delivered to ebook readers. Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation has led the global “pay-for-news” effort, which is working like a charm for his Wall Street Journal.

The jury is still out on whether substantial numbers of subscribers will pay up for more general news content, such as offered by the UK Times and our own New York Times.

Meantime, the marketplace is anxiously awaiting Amazon's apps to set publications free to iPads and other devices beyond the Kindle.  (Our fingers at Planet iPad are crossed, hoping blogs will be included.)

Implications for the victor in are greater than might first meet the eye. Last month, a report by the Nielsen company found that of 400 iPad users amongst a larger group surveyed, two-thirds buy their books in the Apple iStore.  They do so, Nielsen said, because it's easier. Apple's inventory there doesn't compare with the more than 700,000 ebooks offered on Amazon.

However, the surveyors discovered, “hard core” readers and iPad owners who buy 25 or more books annually jumped ship to Amazon. The survey found 44% of the hard core preferred ebook shopping at Amazon, a significant percentage.

And that was before Amazon introduced the Windowshop for iPad app,  making it easy for iPad users to buy anything and everything Amazon sells—including ebooks, e-newspapers and e-magazines.

If the periodicals app isn't as full-featured as the Apple app, Amazon will be at a major competitive disadvantage. At the moment, iPad Times readers who subscribe via the iStore get a much richer visual experience and a lot more access to the full newspaper than do Kindle owners.

All of these issues will one day be resolved, but at the moment all of them are at full boil.

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