E-reader options for specialist media owners

E-readers are already beginning to make waves in the book publishing market, but when and how might they be relevant for specialist media owners?  There are a bewildering range of devices on the way; but how can a media owner decide which to support and how to manage their content?  Last week I met Dominic Jacquesson, former COO of Electric Word and now an e-reader guru, to find out what specialist media owners need to be considering now.  Here’s some top tips, but keep track of Dominic’s blog www.inkondeadtrees.com for more insight.

1. Which devices will be available first in UK?

Amazon’s Kindle is now available in the UK, although Plastic Logic’s e-reader  may not be widely available till late 2010.  Interread’s cooler will be available in early 2010, but its interface is limited.  One to watch is the next generation of the Sony Reader, due by Christmas 2009, with 3G wireless and a touch screen with iphone-style virtual keyboard.  Sony has a relationship with Waterstone’s for books, but is also thought to be targeting magazine publishers.

2. What will the next tech innovation be?

Touch screen and wireless technology will become requirements, allowing both editorial references to other web content, and also interactive advertising. All e-readers now are black and white only, but colour must be the next challenge.  Some have physical keyboards eg Kindle, or touch screen such as the new Sony, to allow users to make notes and search references.  However, the next step must be to allow handwritten comments to be added to the published material.  Ultimately laptops and e-readers may converge into a single lightweight wireless device: this is the point at which many people expect Apple will enter the market.

3. Which publishers will try the format first?

In the US, newspapers and book publishers, who aren’t bothered by the  restrictions of black and white only, are experimenting with Kindle.  The Economist is the most prominent magazine on the device, which is logical given its business audience and lack of reliance on images and colour.  High end b2b publishers or higher education publishers may test the format before more mainstream consumer and specialist media owners.

4. How can media owners decide which devices to work with?

A new group of aggregators is likely to develop, who negotiate deals with all the device manaufacturers, and then offer a single point of contact for publishers, in return for a revenue share.  Digital edition publishing businesses, such as Olive and Zinio, are positioning themselves in this role.  This will likely make it easier for smaller media owners to test the potential.

5. How can publishers make money from these formats?

This is the tricky one!  Amazon has established a tough revenue share deal for book publishers with Kindle, taking 70% of retail price, and keeping prices low at $9.99.  The other benchmark is Apple, which takes 30% of App Store revenue.  Add an aggregator, and publishers may be lucky to keep 40% of the retail price.  Consumers will likely expect a discount on the physical product, and there is the added complication of VAT.  Athletics Weekly are charging £3.99 for a 30-day sub to their mag on the iphone. So a publisher may only receive £7pa from say a £20pa e-sub.  However, by removing print, paper and post costs this might still be viable.  The big unknown will be consumer take-up in each market.

Interested to hear the views of any other media owners grappling with this issue. See also my recent blog on paid content subscriptions for more thoughts on this subject.  Take a look at the discussions on the Specialist Media Network for more  articles and comments on this topic.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy, Penmaen Media, creates practical digital media and marketing strategies.  If you are considering how to make money from your content across new platforms, do contact us for an initial discussion.