The e-reader and tablet industry got a lot more competitive today when Amazon announced
it will roll out a new $139 Kindle e-reader in 140 countries in late August. The move signals the dawn of a mass-market e-reader business and a race to two-figure pricing.
Amazon has said in recent weeks that sales of its e-books are now outstripping the ink-on-paper versions, but the Kindle has found that being first in the market didn't necessary corner it.
The Barnes & Noble Nook, other e-readers and the much-vaunted Apple iPad have come into the market since the first Kindle. Amazon's latest version boasts a better resolution, a month-long battery life and options for Wi-Fi ($139) or 3GS ($189).
Amazon's Jeff Bezos said the Kindle was originally developed for the serious reader. Now, he says,
it's priced to be a gift purchase for kids. Of course, it's also of importance to the print media business.
This week Facebook
launched its Facebook + Media page
to help news and other organizations make the most of their relationship with the social networking site.
The aim is to help journalists, programmers and others understand best practices inside Facebook --- how to reach the largest audience, optimally share content, participate in conversations about it and track the buzz.
It's the first such attempt by Facebook to reach out to an industry increasingly using it as a newsgathering, conversational and distribution channel. It ought to spur organizations to produce standardized approaches to using Facebook, obviously with some variations.
The release Sunday of more than 90,000 secret records
on U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan was orchestrated by the Wikileaks
site in conjunction with The New York Times
, The Guardian of London
and Der Spiegel
The release of the so-called War Logs is bound to be discussed and studied for a long time. But the initial focus for the craft of journalism ought to be studying the game-changing qualities of material that spreads from an online resource, through well-resourced traditional newsrooms, into the hands of thousands of other expert and non-expert organizations and individuals. It's the largest test yet of a new map of information.
Nieman Journalism Lab has a good starting-point piece today
on how the study can be framed. Among other things it raises questions on how Wikileaks will evolve and whether there is sufficient new information in the logs to change the course of the war --- as did the release of the Pentagon Papers nearly four decades ago. Mainly, though, it will be a profound test of the digital information ecosystem.
Jeffrey Rosen, in a lengthy article for the Sunday New York Times Magazine
, discusses the permanance of the personal in the digital era --- how everything created is preserved, cached, then searched and used.
There is good and not-so-good in all of this. It does permit the end of forgetting, in that it's possible to find what you thought you lost, with a little digging. But it also means that what you capture is a an eternal record --- and not always a positive one, in which "ill-advised photos and chatter come back to haunt people months and years after the fact."
Employers routinely scour the Internet to learn more about their current and prospective hires. Relationships and business arrangements are often subjected to digital scrutiny before and during. And your identity, once framed by your local situation and acquaintances, now has more difficulty in redefinition due to the digital record of activity.
For journalists, this digital footprint is a goldmine. Newsrooms routinely look at Facebook and MySpace pages, Tweets and blogs to gather information about people, places and things. Few barriers exist technically or legally, for the time being.
Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, portrays the merging of the public and private self and concludes that this phase may evolve into one of greater digital forgiveness --- just not now.
In recent days the world's largest Internet company has pushed back
on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's proposed approaches
on journalism in the digital age. In effect Google has told the FTC it is overreacting in the evolution of journalism and its business models.
The FTC staff report, for instance, had proposed restrictions on so-called "hot news" to restrict how much material from one source could be repurposed by others. Google just doesn't agree, nor does it support taxes to strengthen news organizations or proposals that would charge aggregators to carry content.
Rather, Google views the transformation of business models as an event that should not include meddling. It is up to organizations and the market to figure it out, not for government to ride to any rescue of the status quo. It notes that creators can already keep their content from being indexed if they wish, but it also notes that its search engine drives readership and consumption to those sites --- and ultimately, advertising and revenue.
"Maximizing the monetization of online traffic will require innovation and experimentation," it notes in its submission to the FTC.
But: "The ultimate solutions that will result in a new online equilibrium for the news industry cannot, however, be mandated by changes in the regulatory framework on in copyright laws."
News organizations sit atop and have capacity to gather information that one might see as ultra-content. What it serves the general public would --- and in some cases, does --- differ from what it would sell to this more focused market.
Chrystia Freeland, the former U.S. managing editor of Financial Times (and, for a time, deputy editor at National Post in our newspaper chain), outlines the emergence of so-called "private news" in a feature-length piece in Columbia Journalism Review
As she sees it, many organizations are developing hybrid distribution models, one free or near-free for the public, one premium-priced for a more elite cohort. The premium part of the business would be created by better-trained, more-highly-paid professionals; it would, in turn, cross-subsidize commodified channels of content for a mass audience. Freeland examines the ethical considerations in such an approach as part of her article.
On the third birthday of Business Insider, respected author Henry Blodget says newspapers are in more dire economic straits than they suggest.
Among his points
1. Revenue will never be the same, he argues, because newspapers are delivery vehicles not just for editorial but for a truckload of ads. Those ads won't easily migrate.
2. Transition to digital won't save print and will mean a much smaller business.
3. Even if a paywall is successful, newsgathering would need to be radically reduced.
4. The only way out is to charge subscribers, increase ad revenue and reduce newsroom costs.
5. The future of journalism remains bright. Digital media is getting better.
"So don't confuse the plight of newspapers with the state of journalism," he writes. "Journalism is in great shape. And digital-media journalism is getting better all the time."
It's interesting that in 2010 we're still discussing (whether there are) differences between a blogger and a journalist. More interesting still is that the latest piece
on this issue comes from a technology writer for Mashable, Jolie O'Dell, and that it is worded quite strenuously.
The effect is bound to get O'Dell attention, perhaps not the kind she'd like.
She has some basic advice for bloggers: Get into school and learn journalism. You're different. Journalists have standards you don't.
In her post, O'Dell articulates the differences she perceives:
1. Journalists have training, have thick skin about editing, and restrain themselves in expressing opinions in their stories.
2. Journalists cite sources, are obsessed with the truth, serve the public and are critical and skeptical.
3. Journalists care about form, don't snitch and are committed to the craft.
"A blogger touting his love for journalism is like a high school choir girl saying she loves opera: She might be sincere, but she’s got a hell of a lot to learn," she writes.
What do you think?
Countless initiatives have set out to deal the newspaper industry a digital body blow with a personalized online publication.
The latest to try is Hawthorne Labs, a nest of former Google and Bing engineers who have produced Apollo, a publication that draws upon user patterns to choose what might be preferred from various categories. Apollo helps the user discover content.
It uses an algorithm to hunt blogs, social media and traditional sources to cluster content of interest to someone on the basis of her online roaming. It's an interesting project worth noting. An iPad application is out and an iPhone app is coming.
There are some interesting pieces around. Perhaps I'll discuss them tomorrow, for what I want to indulge in now is a post about the journalistic influence of my mother. She passed away this morning at the lively age of 85.
My mother was a struggling single parent in a much simpler time, but even with very scarce means, we always had a newspaper in the house and a television set that never missed the newscast. I have to agree with those who say reading is enjoyed by those who watch others enjoy reading.
Our after-school ritual involved her cooking dinner as I lay on my stomach on the kitchen linoleum, leaning on my elbows, to read the sports section of the Toronto Star or Toronto Telegram. We'd talk sports, particularly hockey, which she followed avidly all her life. (My first job at age 10 was to deliver the Telegram.)
Comics hardly ever appealed to me in the paper, but the Entertainment section did, and it was my mother's encouragement of my music interests that educated me early to the sounds of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones before I was a teen and made me comfortable to write about music once I had a venue. Without that early income, I wouldn't have made it through college to get the jobs I have.
I still remember her telling me one Sunday morning that some girl had come down with a bad cold and that there was now a spare ticket for a concert that afternoon for The Beatles. She put me on the streetcar alone, age six, and my cousin met me at the stop at Maple Leaf Gardens. Guess you couldn't do that today without a visit from a child services worker.
I watched the Canadian and American newscasts to give me some first impressions of the wider world. We had no money to travel --- I didn't board a plane until I was in college, at my school's expense --- but my mother's latitude on my TV consumption was a cool thing. As long as what I was watching seemed to bring knowledge, she would let the TV run day and night. It didn't stop me from watching junk, but along the way I got to understand the structure of newscasts, the concept of a talk show, and the methods to appropriate should I ever be so lucky.
I hope to discover in her apartment in the days ahead copies of my first newspaper, a Grade Six regular masterpiece printed with Gestetner fluid called The Editorial. It was created at Canada's first-ever experiential (meaning, free-form and largely unaccountable) school, Dewson Public School in central-west Toronto. My teacher was Mrs. Waverman, who told my mother that I had a particular gift to one day be a writer. One day Mrs. Waverman decided to give up teaching. She is now Canada's most acclaimed food writer, the Globe and Mail's Lucy Waverman.
Once I moved away, my mother kept as many early clippings in community newspapers, trade publications and campus papers as she could find and I could deliver. Eventually she made sure anything I wrote that showed up in the Star or the Globe and Mail made its way to her. She was a voracious collector and I was a productive supplier.
I don't think my mother ever came to more than one or two school sports events of mine --- a good thing, considering my athletic prowess --- but she rarely missed anything I did on television, even that Wayne's World-like community cable show I did in my teens that featured loud music, rock interviews and the first wave of rock videos. I held a number of jobs in news services and newspapers, but the ones she most understood were in television. When she could see what I did with the medium of her generation, she could comprehend what I did for a living. Even with her curiosity on what people I'd met were like, the writing and managing were abstractions for someone with three years of her own education and three decades in factories.
The only time she'd be upset with me, it seemed, was when I'd be on TV and she didn't know about it. She really hated to hear about my shows from her friends, but she always said they said flattering things. Actually, she was also uncomfortable hearing about the long hours I worked (my employers vehemently disagreed), but came to understand that her struggle to put food on the table informed my work ethic to seize opportunity and never let my family come as close as we did to poverty.
She was not ever going to be technically savvy. I must have offered her a dozen computers, cellphones and tutorials in the last two decades, but she declined the offer and stopped absorbing tech at the VCR and CD player. She tried but never quite got the hang of recording my programs. It didn't matter: She seemed to know everyone on them and everything we said.
At long last, a cousin one day got her online and watched her peck away an email to me. My mother phoned to make sure I got it.
I was proud to earn enough money at age 15 to buy her first colour TV --- a gift of media for her encouragement of it. I smuggled it to the house by cab when she was at work. I think it weighed about 50 pounds. More than 35 years later, I brought her a flat-screen for her birthday in April. I know it weighed less than 10 pounds. I figured it was her last one, but didn't know until today how soon it would be so.