Newspapers: Please Buy a Kindle. Unless We Can Sell You a Paper Instead.

Published on May 6, 2009
by Peter Kafka

newspaperlessEven under the best of circumstances, Amazon’s new Kindle DX wouldn’t “save the newspaper business.” But both Amazon (AMZN) and the newspapers are holding back from doing all they can to make sure the DX helps as much as possible.

Here’s why: The yet-to-be-described subsidy the papers plan to offer to Kindle DX buyers who agree to long-term subscriptions will only be available to a fraction of subscribers–those who can’t get home delivery of the print edition.

From Amazon’s press release: “The New York Times Company (NYT) and Washington Post Company (WPO) are launching pilots with Kindle DX this summer. The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post will offer the Kindle DX at a reduced price to readers who live in areas where home-delivery is not available and who sign up for a long-term subscription to the Kindle edition of the newspapers.”

Since the New York Times is available for home delivery throughout most of the U.S., that means that the majority of its American readers will have to pay full freight–$489–for the gadget. I suppose you could circumvent this if you lived, in say, Minneapolis,┬áby agreeing to subscribe to the Boston Globe instead, which you can’t get delivered at home there. But what’s the point?

My assumption here is that the terms were set by the Times and the Post, which presumably don’t want to cut into print circulation. This makes sense if you’re focused on the very, very short term, since the print editions–both via subscriptions and the ads they contain–still deliver the majority of newspaper revenue for both companies.

Then again, that business isn’t going gangbusters for any of the papers involved. The Times, for instance, spent the early morning hours today hammering out a labor deal that will allow it keep the Globe in business.

The easy way to improve the offer: Copy my corporate colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, and offer a bundle online/offline subscription. But once you start doing that, you get into interesting billing issues, which is going to be fodder for another post.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll try it. Since everyone involved is careful to point out that this is an “experiment,” etc., it’s possible that the papers could reconsider the offer sooner than later. Which I hope they do: It’s a nice-looking device, and it would be a shame if no one ever used it.

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