WSJ & the Kindle: Puzzling Relationship

What might a larger-screen e-reader look like? Here's what Plastic Logic plans to release later this year. Whether Amazon will follow suit remains to be seen.

What might a larger-screen e-reader look like? Here's what Plastic Logic plans to release later this year. Whether Amazon will follow suit remains to be seen.

Over the weekend, while I was reading the Wall Street Journal on my Kindle e-reader (I pay $10/month for that subscription), I noticed this headline: Amazon Is Developing Bigger-Screen Kindle. I found the article interesting for several reasons — including that the sole source for the headline’s claim is the unnamed group, “people who said they have seen a version of the device.” I was even more surprised to read that “the new Kindle could debut before the 2009 holiday shopping season, they said.” That’s pretty damn ambitious.

…WSJ.com also noted that an Amazon spokesman “declined to comment on what he called ‘rumors or speculation.’”

Hmmm… could this be a replay of the rumors of an Apple tablet computer that have been recurring for years? (Thanks for the reminder of that, Ron Miller.)

A larger-format Kindle would indeed be an attractive product to many consumers. It would be even more appealing to news organizations that are already selling (or are considering selling) Kindle subscriptions to their content. The Kindle’s current screen size significantly constrains formatting and excludes advertising — and thus news revenue potential for this device.

When considering this story’s conspicuously scanty sourcing, I noticed that this article did not acknowledge that the Wall Street Journal — and every other news org selling Kindle subscriptions — stands to benefit financially from the availability of a larger-size Kindle. In other words, the Journal used a definitively-worded headline to amplify an unconfirmed rumor that, if true, might eventually increase its e-reader revenue stream. And this claim has been widely repeated.

Of course, Amazon’s alleged forthcoming Kindle is not the only emerging larger e-reader option…

I reported earlier that Hearst says they’re working on their own e-reader. And Plastic Logic has been signing up content partners (including news content) for its larger-format e-reader, which Plastic Logic says it will start rolling out later this year. But Amazon is a very strong consumer brand, and the Kindle has consumer market traction — significant potential advantages to publishers seeking e-reader revenues sooner rather than later.

Also, the WSJ tech site All Things D reported April 2 that Rupert Murdoch mentioned that News Corp (which owns the Journal) is investing in an as-yet-unspecified large-format e-reader. Peter Kafka wrote:

“I checked in with a News Corp. spokesperson, who confirmed that I hadn’t been hallucinating: News Corp. is indeed in ‘exploratory’ talks about making an investment in a company working on e-reader technologies.”

So: Could this Kindle story be an attempt by the Journal to nudge Amazon in a favorable business direction? The possibility is strong enough that I’m personally very skeptical about the WSJ article’s key claim. Either a more nuanced headline or stronger sourcing would have made this story less of an ethical gray area.

AM I A WSJ SUBSCRIBER, OR NOT?

…This Kindle-WSJ connection is the kind of thing I love to point out on Twitter. But to tweet it, I needed a link to the story. (You can’t tweet web links directly from the Kindle.) So I had to look up the story on WSJ.com. There, the full text of this particular story is available only to Journal subscribers — which makes me hesitant to link to it, since most people would not be able to read it.

But I found the context surrounding this article intriguing enough (and considered that I probably have at least some fellow paying Journal subscribers in my Twitter posse)… so I thought it might be worth making an exception and providing a link to subscriber-wall content.

I tried to log in to the site as a subscriber, to check that the full article was indeed available there. Guess what? WSJ.com doesn’t think I’m a subscriber — even though I pay for this publication on my Kindle. That’s right: currently there is no way for paying Kindle subscribers to log in to WSJ.com in order to gain access to their full Web content. In fact, the Journal’s own subscription page currently doesn’t even mention the Kindle as an option.

Hmph. Maybe the circulation, business development, and editorial departments at the Journal should sit down together and talk about this one.

Oh, and to add another layer to this onion… Recently I noted in Tidbits that WSJ.com’s managing editor Bill Grueskin and former Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann made some amusing comments about how the site’s initial paid-content strategy was “ignorant.” Seems that under News Corp. management, this misguided thinking continues…

7 thoughts on WSJ & the Kindle: Puzzling Relationship

  1. I just updated the post to clarify: You can’t easily tweet a web link (URL) from the Kindle, since you have to look it up elsewhere and then key it in, all rather a painful process on the Kindle. Most Kindle documents and articles do not show the equivalent URL for that content.

    - Amy Gahran

  2. Amy, just for additional info… I was a WSJ print subscriber for years. WSJ has 3 different plans (4 now with Kindle). Print only, web only, print+web, kindle. I payed $360/yr for print+web. The web access bump to the print is less than web access only.

    I switched my WSJ to the Kindle2 on day 1. I suspected that I would lose full web access, which I did. You are right however, there ought to be way to get the Kindle edition + web access at a bundled rate.

    Regards,
    Robert

  3. Just read this disturbing bit at Consumerist.com… this (DRM) is also why I didn’t use an iPod.

    “Amazon recently banned a customer for making what they considered too many returns, and when they did this they also disabled his Kindle account, although the returns were never related to Kindle purchases. So what happens when your Kindle account is taken away? Your Kindle still works, and the books you already bought for it will work, but you can’t download those books ever again (better have made a backup on your PC!), you can’t receive your magazine, blog, or newspaper subscriptions on it anymore, you can’t email documents to Amazon to have them converted and sent to your Kindle, and you can’t buy any new books for the device. That $360 device only works so long as Amazon decides it will work.”

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