Free Kindles, local mobile news, and pissed off fanboys: My recent CNN.com Tech mobile stories

It’s been a very busy month and a half for me. I spent a week in Los Angeles as a featured presenter for the Mobile News Week at the journalism school there, and now I’m finishing preparations to travel to two other journalism schools next week for the Knight Digital Media Center’s Mobile Symposium. So I haven’t been letting Contentious.com readers know what I’ve been writing elsewhere.

But I’ve been logging a lot of cool mobile stuff for CNN.com Tech. So here’s a quick list of what I’ve been covering there…

Continue reading

Kindle Problem: No reformatted PDFs, no Instapaper since late July

UPDATE Aug 5: Amazon’s Kindle support called me this morning to let me know that they’d fixed the pdf conversion problem — which is indeed now working. (Thanks, Amazon.) However, I still am not receiving my Instapaper digests on my Kindle. I’ve contacted Instapaper twice about this; no response yet. I’ve also let Amazon know of the continuing Instapaper problem.

I’m an avid Kindle user, mostly because I’ve come to hate paper and need to save space. I love the device, I think it’s a great reading experience and it suits my lifestyle — even though Amazon’s choice to rescind my George Orwell anthology a few weeks ago was simply beyond parody. (Lesson: Back up all your Kindle content as soon as it arrives on your machine. I put Orwell back on my Kindle simply by copying it from my backup.)

In the last couple of weeks some significant problems have developed concerning non-Amazon content for my Kindle — specifically PDFs I’ve been trying to reformat for Kindle reading, and digests sent to my Kindle from my Instapaper account. In late July both of those services stopped working for me entirely. That’s a big problem for me. Without those services, the Kindle is much less useful to me.

I don’t know whether other Kindle users are having these problems, but I thought I’d explain what I’m experiencing just in case someone has an explanation or solution. I’m working with Kindle support on this, but they said it might take a couple of weeks to resolve.

Here are the details…
Continue reading

What’s Going on with WSJ Pricing?

“You know nothing of my work!”

(Read below for CJR tie-in.)

A month ago, as I wrote earlier, I was willing to pay $10/month to subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle. I canceled that subscription last week, after the release of the WSJ iPhone application that provides free access to all WSJ content.

The iPhone app carries ads at the bottom of the screen, but I don’t mind. I also get audio and video content from WSJ through the app, too. Meanwhile, Subscribing to WSJ.com currently costs $89 per year. ($99 per year if you want the print edition, too.) And, as I noted earlier, WSJ’s own subscription page currently doesn’t even mention subscribing via Kindle.

Apparently WSJ plans to start charging for some of its iPhone app-delivered content at some point. Wired.com reports:

“There is free, and then there is free, apparently. A Dow Jones spokeswoman wrote to Wired.com Thursday to say that the company does intend to charge for some content consumed on smartphones ‘so we have a consistent experience across multiple platforms,’ though the company is ‘still exploring its options’ and isn’t saying when that might happen. They would offer ‘both free and subscription content, so the idea is to mirror the experience on the site,’ the spokeswoman said.”

“…Eight months after it released its Blackberry app Dow is still saying that ‘Full access to subscriber content (is free) for a limited time only.’ There is a free mobile site that has a large sampling of the Journal’s content. …We’ll see if the almost certain bad will of a giveth and taketh away revenue model is worth trying to put the content genie back in the bottle.”

WSJ.com founding editor and publisher Neil Budde (who just joined Daily Me) recently exploded some common myths about WSJ.com’s pricing model — a nuanced history that often gets oversimplified.

Still, I think Printcasting founder Dan Pacheco got it right last night on Twitter: “Content pricing must be consistent across platforms. And it shows how charging for print will get more awkward day by day.”


…After I originally published the above story in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits yesterday, Ryan Chittum of Columbia Journalism Review took what I said as an excuse to rally for WSJ to “hold the line” on charging for its content.

I found this very amusing…

Continue reading

Kindle Text-to-Speech: “Robotic NPR”

Photography imported on the site Flickr.com by...
NPR’s next hire? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve made a discovery about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader: It’s a pretty good “news radio.” That is, its text-to-speech function does a surprisingly decent job of reading news content aloud.

I currently subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle, and I’ve gotten in the habit of letting it read me some interesting articles as I go through my morning routine. I like it. The automated text-to-speech reader is a bit flat for fiction, narrative, and essays that require significant emotional or rhetorical inflection — but it’s great for news. I’ve starting considering it my “robotic NPR.”

(Ducking the reflexive outcry from all my friends at NPR…)

Of course, my point isn’t only about the Kindle. It’s about how any text-to-speech service or tool can interact with text-based news and information content — and why creators of text-based news content should start to take that into consideration. Because you never know exactly how people will experience your content…

Continue reading

Hearst plans its own e-reader: Good idea, sort of…

Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Everett Sloan...
Times have changed since Citizen Kane. How well can Hearst Newspapers adapt? (Image via Wikipedia)

Last week, Hearst Newspapers made two big announcements: That Hearst intends to begin charging for some of its online news, and that it plans to soon launch its own e-reader device to rival Amazon’s Kindle 2.

Gawker cynically decries Hearst’s plan as The Last Stand of a Doomed Industry, but I think this is a step in the right direction — although I would encourage Hearst to think carefully whether it really wants to be in the device business.

We’ve seen how well grasping too tightly to the “paper” part of “newspaper” has worked out from a business perspective. I don’t think getting into the “e-reader” business is a better plan. When news companies get bogged down with manufacturing and owning the delivery vehicles for their content, they lose flexibility and start making backwards-focused business decisions.

It might make more sense for Hearst or other news publishers to partner with the maker of a popular, user-friendly e-reader to create a special-edition product for news. Here’s why…

Continue reading