Quickshots: October

A great example why print still works: The Occupy Wall Street Journal is a 4-page broadsheet that is widely distributed among protesters downtown.

“Forgive an old newspaper hack a moment of sentimentality, but it is somehow reassuring that a newspaper still has traction in an environment preoccupied by social media. It makes sense when you think about it: Newspapers convey a sense of place, of actually being there, that digital media can’t. When is the last time somebody handed you a Web site?” (David Carr, “A Protest’s Ink-Stained Fingers“, New York Times).

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In Is Journalism As We Know It Becoming Obsolete?”, Mathew Ingram debates the question that Dave Winer (Scripting) raised in his blog post, where he argued that it is obsolete “because everyone can do it”. Winer writes, “Now we can hear directly from the sources and build our own news networks. It’s still early days for this, and it wasn’t that long ago that we depended on journalists for the news. But in a generation or two we won’t be employing people to gather news for us. It’ll work differently.”

You should know my point of view by now. And if you agree with the notion that journalism is an old hat, why are you reading this blog? Ingram (and I happen to agree with him) argues that everyone has their own definition what journalism is, “but I think it’s fundamentally about a spirit of inquiry, of curiosity, of wanting to make sense of things. It’s something like the spirit of scientific inquiry, as Matt Thompson noted recently in a post at the Poynter Institute. It has very little to do with specific tools or specific methods of publishing.”

Yes, anybody can access sources and write. But we still need those of us who can curate the flow of information, put it in historic and political perspective and digest the findings. We are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Journalism, says Ingram, “is a state of mind.” Yes, indeed.

“A new generation of web entrepreneurs has discovered the joys of charging users cold, hard cash. […] If we’re lucky, this trend will save the Internet from one of the most corrosive forces affecting it — the bloodless logic of advertising,” writes Clive Thompson on Online Ads in Wired Magazine. “I predict that in 2050, we’ll look back at the first 20 years of the web and shake our heads. The craptacular design! The hallucinogenic business models! The privacy nightmares! All because entrepreneurs convinced themselves that they couldn’t do what inventors have done for centuries: Charge people a fair price for things they want.”

I agree! Thanks, Clive. But what took you so long to discover this? And do you pay for what you read online?

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Very sound advice:

“Online publishing has made it deceptively easy to become a publisher. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Back when editors and publishers were gatekeepers, there was someone who was reviewing your writing. Content creation, like any other art form, generally improves with practice. If you haven’t ever written for the web or you’re just a bit rusty, you should consider practicing more in private. Working out your routine in private is far less damaging to your brand than producing sub-par content.” (Buddy Scalera, “Content Strategy Tip: Write Awful Content”) 

World press trends: Newspapers still reach more than internet. “Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West,” said Christoph Riess, CEO of WAN-IFRA, who presented an annual survey at the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Vienna, Austria. Nicely put.

Print to Pixel: Mobile E-Readers

Since the introduction of Apple’s iPad, the publishing industry has been on edge. Blamed for the demise of book publishing and at the same time hailed as a savior of print media, Apple’s shiny gadget and its alternatives — smaller, cheaper e-readers — are everywhere: e-book sales jumped 183 percent in the first half of 2010, and Amazon now sells more e-books than hardcovers. And Google just announced its initiative to launch an e-book store Google Editions with an open, in the cloud purchasing and reading model, where all you need is an internet browser to buy any e-book from any platform.

TechCrunch has this to say about Google’s entrance into the e-book market:

“The advantages of not having to go through, for instance, Amazon, when selling your book, are hard to quantify. But the notion that an author will be able to place a widget on their own page, and have the book-buying transaction be self-contained rather than being transferred to Amazon, is significant.”

Hitching a ride on the iPad’s appeal, print media are scrambling to churn out iPad apps with the goal of erecting pay walls for electronic content across all mobile platforms. We will actually have to pay for what we read online.

In addition, people who own or plan to buy an e-reader  are a ready-made audience for newspapers, according to a study released by Scarborough Research. “E-reader devices are becoming an important technology for millions of Americans and our data confirms their emergence as a natural companion to newspapers,” said Gary Meo, senior vice president of digital media and newspaper services for Scarborough Research. “At this point, many newspaper publishers are determining strategies for making their content available on e-reader devices, and this is creating a new opportunity to monetize content and increase readership.”

And that’s not all: According to a study released by the Harrison Group and digital newsstand provider Zinio, digital tablet and e-reader owners read more newspaper articles and books, and they are more likely than non-owners to pay for digital content.

The iPad has raised the bar, but to be fair, it is a full-fledged tablet and not an e-reader. It has a huge, and therefore heavy, full-color, backlit LCD screen, and it only supports Apple formats. It has no free 3G and is the most expensive mobile reader on the market. But it does look gorgeous, and it is especially suited to reading texts with graphics.

For simply consuming e-books, however, e-readers are just fine. Most devices use crisp, monochrome e-ink screen technology that resembles old-fashioned ink; they can be read even in direct light without eyestrain (but not in the dark). New color e-ink screens will enter the U.S. market very soon.

Before buying one of these devices, you need to consider several things: the weight, screen size and price of the reader; your reading habits and your need for free Wi-Fi or access to AT&T’s 3G cellular network, Bluetooth or an USB port; and whether you plan to download various e-book formats, borrow library books in EPUB format (books stored in online library catalogues) or read PDF files.

The following e-readers are currently considered front-runners:

Kindle (Amazon): Often referred to as “the iPod of books,” the Kindle gets glowing reviews; it uses e-ink, is roughly the size of a paperback, and is lightweight and thin. It holds 1,500 books and has a battery life of two weeks. However, it only supports Amazon’s e-books and is the only reader that doesn’t support Goggle Editions or EPUB. It comes with optional free Wi-Fi/3G and a full keypad and offers magazine and newspaper subscriptions (take that, iPad!). The newest edition, the KindleDX, can store more than 3,500 books and has a 9.7-inch screen that can be read both horizontally and vertically.

Nook (Barnes & Noble): Supporting almost all platforms, including e-books in the public domain and EPUB, Nook has an e-ink screen and free Wi-Fi/3G. The recently released Nook Color has a 7-inch color screen. You can “loan” downloads to a friend for up to two weeks and read e-books for free in B&N stores. Nook shows page numbers that differ from the print editions, but many e-readers don’t display pagination at all or only show the portion of the book already read. One drawback is Nook’s baffling navigation system.

Daily Edition (Sony): The first to introduce an e-reader in 2006, Sony uses e-ink with infrared touch-screen technology that allows you to turn pages with a swipe of the finger instead of pushing buttons. The device’s large 7-inch screen makes it bulkier, heavier and more expensive than most e-readers, but it does come with free Wi-Fi/3G.

The Huffington Post has 13 suggestions for iPad alternative tablet PCs.