Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Do Magazines Need Their Own Kindle? Yes, Says Hearst.

readingIf Amazon’s Kindle is the iPod for books, do we need a Kindle for magazines and newspapers? I’d say no. But publishing heavyweight Hearst disagrees and is going to come out with an e-reader of its own, according to a published report.

Fortune says Hearst, which publishes magazines like Cosmopolitan and Esquire, and, for the time being, newspapers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Francisco Chronicle, is working its own Kindle-like device.

“I can’t tell you the details of what we are doing, but I can say we are keenly interested in this, and expect these devices will be a big part of our future,” Hearst digital head Kenneth Bronfin tells the magazine. Some more vague details, which don’t include a launch date:

Insiders familiar with the Hearst device say it has been designed with the needs of publishers in mind. That includes its form, which will approximate the size of a standard sheet of paper, rather than the six-inch diagonal screen found on Kindle, for example. The larger screen better approximates the reading experience of print periodicals, as well as giving advertisers the space and attention they require.

…the Hearst reader is likely to debut in black and white and later transition to high-resolution color with the option for video….Downloading content from participating newspapers and magazines will occur wirelessly….

What Hearst and its partners plan to do is sell the e-readers to publishers and to take a cut of the revenue derived from selling magazines and newspapers on these devices. The company will, however, leave it to the publishers to develop their own branding and payment models. ‘That’s something you will never see Amazon do,’ someone familiar with the Hearst project said. ‘They aren’t going to give up control of the devices.'”

Intriguing? Yes. But I don’t have high hopes for the Hearst reader.

That’s in part because building consumer gadgets is a lot harder than it looks–remember all those awful MP3 players that predated Apple’s (AAPL) iPod? And I’m particularly worried about consumer gadgets designed with publishers in mind instead of consumers/readers.

But I’m also skeptical because I don’t really see how a dedicated magazine/periodical player does much for readers, period.

You can debate the pricing and feature set on Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle, but at least there’s a use case for the device: It’s designed to let you read for long stretches of time, which is pretty hard to do on iPhones and BlackBerries.

But I can easily plow through newspaper stories and magazine articles on my relatively frill-free BlackBerry 8830 (if you do the same, let me recommend and/or Handmark’s FreeRange Reader). And bear in mind that Amazon’s device is also designed to let you hoover up newspapers, etc., as well; the New York Times says it is already selling a “modest” number of subscriptions to Kindle users.

So if Hearst’s Kindle Kopy is going to take up space in my gadget array, it’s going to have be something pretty special.

[Image credit: Library of Congress via Flickr]

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik