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.’”
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…