by Colleen Fraser

The Kindle from Amazon may be smaller than a laptop, but offers a comfortable sized screen for reading.
Photo by tsgreer; Wikicommons.com

The home of the Big Three is feeling the pinch of the decline in the auto industry, and the loss of advertising revenue means The Detroit News is in jeopardy.

The San Fransisco Examiner, once the cornerstone of William Randolf Hearst's media empire has declined in circulation over the years and now takes the form of a free daily tabloid. The San Francisco Chronicle could also go under, which would leave California’s fourth largest city without a source of daily print news and Seattle Post-Intelligencer has gone completely digital.

Canada, of course, has not been exempt from the economic crisis. CanWest, Canada’s biggest media conglomerate, is talking about the possibility of foreign ownership. There are hiring freezes, major cutbacks in content and a lot of nail biting around the newsrooms as some papers shrink in size.

I recently read the headline story from Time Magazine, How to Save Your Newspaper by Walter Isaacson. In a time of crumbing industries and billion dollar bailouts, daily papers in the United States are suffering like never before. While Isaacson blames much of the trouble of the industry on free online content, he said that perhaps the media should set up a micropayment plan, similar to ITunes, where you can purchase an article for under a quarter, or subscribe to whole papers for $5.00 a month. And for cable, viewers can pay extra for specialty news channels the same way they pay for movie channels. 

Most people scoff at the idea of paying for online news – and I was one of them. It feels like news should be for everyone and moreover, for free. But how can media outlets be expected to crank out content without a profit?

Amazon unveiled a product in 2007 that could be a flagship in pay-per-article media. The Kindle is a handheld ebook reader, which at first sounds just a fun as reading a novel on a computer screen. However, since the Kindle does not have a backlit screen, it does not cause the same eye strain monitors do.

Through Sprint’s cellular internet service, you can access Amazon.com’s bookstore anywhere, at anytime, for free without requiring a wireless internet connection, the company says. Readers can purchase a book and have it in their Kindle instantly, where it can hold up to 1,500 books. The battery, when not connected to the internet, can last up to two weeks. And if it needs to be replaced, Amazon is on the hook to do so – not the consumer.

The Kindle is being treated as a boost for the e-book industry. But could it transfer to saving the media?

Most people have to use a computer for their job the majority of the day, so staring at a screen over your morning coffee is not as tempting as laying out a paper.

“I like the feeling of sitting down with my coffee in the morning and reading the paper,” said Lindsey Henley, a real estate appraiser that works from home. She goes on to say that she would never consider giving up books because of a connection to the physical feeling of it.

“I can’t give an e-book to my sister once I am done reading it. I like… the feel of the book, and holding it. Reading off of a screen just isn’t the same.”

However, if the Kindle does what it says, it should mimic newsprint and make it easy for people to adapt.

And for those concerned about the environment, using a product like the Kindle allows you to get your news while avoiding paper waste, reducing the amount of newsprint sent to the dump.  The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council estimates that newsprint accounts for 6.4% of waste paper, while in Saskatoon it is a whopping 17.4%. Although those numbers don’t seem that high, those percentages are dealing in tonnes of paper. When citizens here who are committed to recycling have to pay upwards of $100 a year for recycling, the price of the Kindle doesn’t seem that bad.

At $359 (USD) for the most recent version of the machine, it may take a long time to recoup your losses. However, as people catch on and they become more popular, their price will go down and more dailies and magazines will be available. Is it possible that this is the new(s) wave of the future?

Amazon offers magazine and daily newspaper subscriptions sent directly to your Kindle. The subscriptions are cheap ($13.99/month for New York Times, $1.49/month for Newsweek), paperless and can be archived and send for 10 cents to a computer with a printer if you feel the need.

If people are given the option to have their cheap subscriptions sent to them, no matter where they are, I think the Kindle offers a bright light in the fading glory of newspapers. The storing capabilities and the responsibility Amazon is taking by providing free wireless seem almost too good to be true. We may never know in Canada though.

When contacted by an INK reporter, Amazon customer service was less than forthcoming about the possibility of the Kindle coming to Canada. Hopefully, if the device can offer important alternatives to print, Amazon will make the decision to export it to Canada. Rogers Communications, with their towers Canada wide, is the only company at this time that could offer a similar service.

 

 

 

 

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