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The Future of Ink, Part 2

Finally, the newspaper industry is fighting back.  At least that’s how it feels, and it feels good. As yet another storied paper teeters on the edge of extinction, and Warren Buffett rubs it in, there are some hopeful developments. As noted in a previous post, Hearst Corp. is backing a Kindle-like e-reader created to handle digital downloads of newspapers, magazines, and the ads that support them. 

Suddenly, there’s lots of ink being spilled about Kindle rivals. Gannett’s USA Today and the Financial Times are among the newspapers signed with Plastic Logic, which is expected to launch its Readius e-tablet early next year. And, the rumor is that Apple is also jumping into the e-reader category with its own device, just as News Corp. is exploring a potential investment in another Kindle competitor. All this while Amazon’s set to unveil a new, 3G version of the Kindle that’ll have a large screen for reading….yes, newspapers.

There’s already been criticism of the new, large-screen Kindle, and there’s a lot to wonder about in all the recent announcements.  Most optimistic may be the implication that we readers, who are accustomed to getting news and other content free via laptops, blackberries, and i-Phones, will pony up subscription fees because of the new, presumably more convenient and pleasing form factor of a larger device, just as everything else seems to be shrinking. And, with so many e-readers hitting the market, there’s huge potential for confusion and consumer pushback.

But, that’s the beauty of the marketplace. I find it encouraging that so many players are getting into the e-reader space. If history’s any guide, the formats that don’t work will go away, the surviving products will get better, and prices will go down. As noted in a recent article on the e-reader space, what’s really interesting about multiple devices is the “possibility they’ll be accompanied by multiple experiments with business models, which would increase the possibility that someone will find one that both keeps the users happy while keeping those that produce the content in business.”   This last is from a recent story in Portfolio, a victim of a changing business model and truly terrible timing, which was shuttered last week. 

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