Newspapers collaborate with e-reader manufacturers to adapt content

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Amazon Kindle, a portable electronic reading device, will have company next year.

Manufacturers plan to introduce several new portable electronic reading devices, known as e-readers, said Roger Fidler, program director for digital publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

On Monday and Tuesday, members of the Digital Publishing Alliance, an organization founded by Fidler in 2007, met in Columbia for the alliance's E-reader Summit to discuss the future of the e-reader industry and challenges facing newspapers in adapting content for these devices.

Executives from e-reader manufacturers, representatives from interested software companies and several newspapers participated in the discussions.

Collaboration between newspapers and across industries is important, said Chuck Rose, USA Today deputy managing editor, because of the “infancy of all of this.”

“There is not a lot of cross-industry pollination,” said James Dunn, The New York Times marketing director. Events such as the summit, Dunn said, provide an opportunity for newspapers to see “where our thinking is compared to other publishers.”

Amazon sells subscriptions to 35 U.S. newspapers for its Kindle, the best-known e-reader.

Devices such as the Kindle are created primarily with books in mind, which presents challenges for newspapers, Fidler said.  

Fidler was the architect of the Missourian eMprint experiment. He and a few others produced a semiweekly digital edition of the Missourian that resembled a print newspaper more than a Web site. This past year, he began developing digital newsbooks, which repackage investigative news reports that he sells on behalf of members of the alliance.

He called upon those experiences in guiding a discussion of business models, design and economic models for digital reader content production.

Participants expressed uncertainty about the future of the medium and were happy to note each other’s shared uncertainty. Some participants, such as Scott Sines, managing editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, saw new digital mediums as an exciting opportunity.

“This is a chance to reshape your content plan,” Sines said.

Sean Reilly, a summit participant and RJI Fellow, is working to develop a profitable newspaper business model for digital content as part of his research at the institute.

Fidler and a team of graduate assistants will study three other pressing issues highlighted by summit participants:

  • Sizing standards for advertising
  • An ideal digital news production schedule
  • Analysis of available e-readers

Fidler’s work with the alliance “gives order to an industry that needs organization,” said Guy Tasaka, business development director at LibreDigital, a software company that specializes in converting print content to digital content.

Still, despite the summit’s spirit of collaboration, many participants were mum on the specifics of their company’s own developments.

“Everybody’s hiding their secrets,” Sines said. “I am, too.”


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