Hearst bringing electronic reader to market sometime?

According to Fortune, Hearst Corp. has its eyes on launching an e-reader as a substitute for its print products.

This could either be the greatest idea ever hatched or it could go down in flames miserably. The Fortune article
compares the mystery device, which Hearst is expected to unveil later this year, to Amazon’s Kindle. The Kindle has helped move people toward using an e-reader instead of a printed product.

But that comparison got me thinking about how Hearst’s endeavor could be a massive flop (and hopefully someone who’s working on this project is either reading this or has thought of this already).

1) Cost: People are accustomed to paying anywhere from 50 cents to $2 for a newspaper off the rack each day and less to have the paper delivered to their home. You’re not going to pull $350 out of people’s pockets like the Amazon Kindle is right now because it’s not the same market. Amazon is drawing from a variety of publishers, Hearst will have…well for now Hearst publications.

1a) The subscription: On top of the cost of the device, you can’t expect to pull in the same price per day of a the print edition. It would be like having the customer buy the paper and ink to print their papers each day, and then charging the usual subscription rate. The value proposition to lure the customer to the device just isn’t there. Ideally a company would want to subsidize the cost of the device with a subscription like this:

Say an e-reader costs $200 normally. If a customer decides to subscribe to a newspaper and a couple of magazines for 6 months, then s/he would get the reader would get it for $99 instead. The newspapers and magazines get the recurring income from the subscriptions and the customer saves money on the hardware.

2) Ease of use: Think about how easy it is to use a newspaper. Pick it up, read, flip a page, read some more. Moving from a print edition to an e-reader would hopefully be this easy and believe it or not the transition actually depends on using the KISS method (Keep it Simple Stupid…nothing to do with Gene Simmons). The design needs to be simple to use and interact with. If I need a manual to find the sports page, I’m just going to the Internet instead of fumbling through a complicated menu.

3) Connection/Content delivery: This can make or break a device. Let’s look at a few examples of electronic devices and how the connection/content delivery is handled.

iPod: Most people have one or are at least familiar with how it works. You can supply your music or videos to it or buy from the iTunes Store. The problem is in order to put content on it for the most part, you need a computer to move it.

iPhone: This is a step up from the iPod in the sense you can access the Internet and read stories through it from anywhere with a cellular phone data connection, which is practically anywhere. The drawback is if you want to download anything above 10 MB (ouch) or use some video streaming applications, a Wi-Fi connection is needed. Great if you’re at home or at a Starbucks, not so great if you’re anywhere else. Oh and the data/phone plan starts around $70 a month

Amazon Kindle: This comes with a free EVDO connection, which if you want to blow out a few brain cells trying to understand it, here’s a link. It’s another form of a cell phone connection, but again, this is free. Users can download books freely to their Kindles, although Amazon does charge a small to convert documents like PDFs to a format the Kindle can read.

If the Hearst idea has any hope of working, it needs a connection like the Kindle so readers can pick up their papers on the fly. Docking any device to a computer will put a severe crimp in readers’ actually getting the paper that day. If it’s too difficult to pick up their paper, people will do the digital equivalent of letting their papers pile up on the porch. It’ll end the same way too: Canceled subscriptions.

4) Licensing: The 800-pound gorilla that can leave this device dead on arrival. As I mentioned before, if this is a Hearst device for Hearst publications, that’s all well and good — until Gannett, McClatchy and Freedom (the parent company of the Appeal-Democrat) want to come out with their own devices for their own publications. Nobody is going to carry around 4 different devices for 4 different publications and most likely they’ll decide just to read their news online or not at all. The best solution here is if Hearst decides to license the software out to other publishers in a way that they take a small fee off the top to allow other newspapers and magazines to use the same device.

It’s not going to be an easy road. If Hearst wants to succeed with this e-reader they need a device that can be subsidized down to around $50, that actually works and works simply, can connect to the Internet on its own for little to no cost and won’t strangle itself with a closed licensing system.

Oh and free coffee and donuts would be nice too.

Random application recommendation

As much as I love using WordPress to write to this blog, it can be a hassle trying to log into the system, make everything work beautifully and put in a post. Sometimes I’m away from an Internet connection (yes, that’s still quite possible nowadays) and the inspiration hits me for a post.

I’ve been looking for awhile to see if WordPress would come out with a desktop client to allow me to write posts without going online. I pretty much gave up hope on that idea. WordPress came up with a program for the iPhone which works pretty well for my personal blogs, but as of this post, our version of the software hates it.

Then I found Blogo, which I’m writing this post on at the moment. It’s a nice, lightweight application for the Mac which can post to all sorts of blogging software, including WordPress and Twitter. It can be installed on up to three computers, though one drawback for me at work is the fact it only works on Mac OS 10.4 and above. Alas, my 10.3.9 machine again confounds me. It’s not free, but $25 seems reasonable for something as well executed as this program is. I wish it would skip lines between paragraphs on its own.

I’m definitely a fan of what I call the “Shut up, computer” mode where all you see if your post and a few text editing options.

Podcast of the Week: Security Now

This week I’m recommending something to help you feel a little more secure on the Internet.

From the plethora of podcasts Leo Laporte hosts and helps produce comes “Security Now.” Laporte and co-host Steve Gibson take a look at the latest creepy-crawlies on the Internet waiting to infect your machine. Of course they don’t have the same chilling tone on the show as that last sentence.

Some of it may fly over your head, but eventually things like WPA keys will make sense and you’ll be able to safeguard your data better than before you started listening.

Here’s the show.

Arrrr mateys, it be rough seas for the recording industry

Normally the Swedish courts don’t fall into my scope of things to follow in my life, but when someone rents a city bus for people to come in and watch, decides to provide their own audio stream of the trial and schedules a “HUGE PARTY” in the middle of it all, I’m watching.

All of this was the prelude to this week’s trial against The Pirate Bay. The site hosts links to torrents, both legal and not, but not the actual files. Now I’m far from an expert on the inner workings of torrent files and peer-to-peer sites, but I am an expert in BS. The major recording labels are ordering the site to walk the plank and pay hefty damages for what they perceive as losses from downloads of their copyrighted works.

Half of the charges in this case were wiped out on the first day because the prosecution didn’t quite understand how the site worked. The tossed charges said the site provided the actual files when all they provided were links to torrents.

Follow closely here, because I’m probably going to go off the deep end myself here in tech terms trying to explain this:

The prosecution said in its complaint that The Pirate Bay was giving out the music and videos it alleges were pirated. The site actually hosts links to what are called torrent files. Torrents are not the actual music or video files, rather they just point to where the files are on the Internet. Think of these like little maps that show where a file can be found.

So as the lawyers for the owners of the site have pointed out, any actual theft from the recording companies is done by the users – or in this case the companies need to find “King Kong” and deal with him.

But in all seriousness, the recording companies are asking for $13 million to compensate for all of the illegal downloads, which is wrong on a few different levels.

1) Not everyone who steals something was going to buy it in the first place

2) EMI wants 130 euros, or approximately $163 U.S. for every Beatles track that hasn’t been released online (in other words, all of them). This defies logic since it’s entirely likely people are pirating these songs because they aren’t available anywhere else online. There’s a market for the music, but if people aren’t able to buy it, they’ll find another means to get it.

3) There is no material loss from the piracy. It’s not as though someone went in and stole a CD from a store that had to be burned, encased, packaged and transported before it arrived there. It’s a duplication of data. While intellectual property is lost, there isn’t a calculable cost from the piracy. The labels can say they lost “x” number of potential sales, but there is no way to prove those sales would have actually been made.

Honestly, if the recording companies took the money they’re paying their lawyers and put it into their music, the industry may not be in the decline its in today.

And by the way, most of you are breaking the law with your music. The Recording Industry Artists of America argued in a 2007 case that copying your CDs to your computer for your own personal use is illegal. I guess that means I broke the law a lot of times when I wanted to reimport my music in a better format from my CDs that I own.

Facebook declines ownership of Appeal-Democrat

Social media site Facebook has rolled back its new terms of service after many complaints from members of its community. Some of you may ask, “Now what could get people in a tizzy about some little agreement?”

How about declaring they own anything you post? Or in so many words:

“You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”

Small beans really. Just the ability to use anything you create or any information you post on the site, or even better, to allow anyone they please to have the same rights they claim.

“Then I’ll just delete my account,” you might say. Well, except for the fact the termination agreement says “oh by the way, we archived all of this and even though you’re no longer on here, we still own your stuff.”

The company said they’re going to try to rework their policy to be a little less creepy.

By the way, if you’re wondering there the title came from, here’s an excerpt from that big quote above:

“…any User Content you … (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website”

In case you’ve missed it, all of our news stories at appealdemocrat.com have links to share through Digg, Yahoo, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Slashdot, Spurl.net, Newsvine, del.icio.us, Google and of course Facebook. They’re at the bottom of the middle column of each story.

Podcast of the Week: Mac OS Ken

A new feature I’m adding to the blog is a Podcast of the Week section.

The first recommendation I’m going to make is a show that essentially personifies what a podcast is and how grassroots it can be. Mac OS Ken is a daily show which brings news about Apple, the Mac and the iPhone five days a week pro bono. The show’s host, Ken Ray, is entering his fourth year of hosting and producing the program, though it’s moved from the Bay Area to Buffalo.

For the most part, it’s a one-man show, save for the guests on his Saturday show, Mac OS Ken Day 6. Unlike the daily show, Day 6 isn’t free. But from a $10 monthly subscription, Ray managed to quit his job at a San Francisco TV station and move to Buffalo before the unemployment ax started swinging across the nation last fall.

Working for himself and doing what he enjoys, Ray is an example of the dream podcasters yearn for.

Free? And save money? Yowza!

In these troubling economic times it’s always nice to find a way to save a few cents here and there. A new app coming down the pipe soon for the iPhone and iPod Touch will help you do just that.

Yowza plans to offer deals and coupons downloadable and scannable (two words after I write them I’m not sure are real) on the screen of your iPhone and iPod Touch. Co-founded by Greg Grunberg (a.k.a. Matt Parkman from the NBC show “Heroes”), the free program will also use the iPhone’s GPS capabilities to find deals and coupons for businesses nearby you.

I for one can’t wait to test this out in the Yuba-Sutter area, for obvious reasons. Hopefully coupons on screens don’t scare too many merchants.

Bill Gates unleashes mosquito swarm at conference

Valleywag is reporting that Bill Gates did something straight out of an Onion story at the TED conference (short for technology, entertainment and design) when he unleashed a swarm of mosquitoes to make a point about his foundation’s efforts to combat malaria. As quoted from a Facebook manager’s Twitter post, Gates said:

“Not only poor people should experience this.”

There isn’t much I can add to this story other than I wish I could get away with something this brilliant. No word on if they actually carried Malaria or West Nile…I’m guessing not.

February 2009 Appeal-Democrat pages

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