Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

New Amazon Device Debuts Wednesday

The last time Amazon held a press conference in New York City was in February, when it introduced the Kindle 2.0. Now the company has scheduled another one for Wednesday morning at Pace University in lower Manhattan.

Expect a new large-format device that’s optimized for reading newspapers and magazines.

Here’s the full text of the invitation that just showed up in my inbox: “We’d like to invite you to an Amazon.com press conference scheduled for Wednesday, May 6 at 10:30 am ET. The press conference is scheduled to take place at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, located at 3 Spruce Street, New York City. Doors will open for registration at 9:30 am ET.”

Say this for whoever’s organizing Amazon’s product announcements–they’ve got a nice sense of whimsy. Amazon (AMZN) showed off Kindle 2.0 at the Morgan Library. And Pace University, located just next to the Brooklyn Bridge, sits on the site of the New York Times’s (NYT) 19th-century headquarters building. The Times, according to the Times, is partnering with Amazon on the new gadget.

UPDATE: There is another, more obvious, reason to have the event at Pace, according to the Wall Street Journal. The university is one of 6 schools that will be working with Amazon to test textbooks on the new devices, the paper says. The others: Case Western, Princeton University, Reed College, Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State University.

Amazon currently sells a subscription to the Times for $14 a month. That version has fewer features than the paper’s free Web site–no video, no color photography, and just one update a day–but some of the early-adopting Kindle users seem to like it. In February, the paper said Kindle subscriptions were a “modest” business.

Amazon is one of several players with plans for a new, large-format device that’s supposedly optimized for newspapers and magazines. News Corp. (NWS), which owns this Web site, has said it’s interested, and fellow publisher Hearst is already working on its own. And here’s a list of entrants you haven’t heard of.

Can a new Kindle–or any other device–reverse the fortunes of the print publishing industry? Nope: It doesn’t matter how you deliver the information if you can’t afford to generate it in the first place. And the industry’s more sober executives understand that.

But if Kindle-like devices really do take off, they will be a natural platform for whatever version of the publishing industry survives. The question facing publishers: Do you try to create your own platform from scratch so you can control your own distribution? Or hop aboard the industry leader and accept that you may end up in the position the music business is in, where one outlet–Apple’s iTunes (AAPL) store–dominates the business?


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