Publishing News: Amazon vs barrier to entry

Amazon breaks through the two-digit price point, a new map misses the mark, and readers peg newspapers as largely irrelevant.

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in publishing news.

Let the ecosystem wars begin

KindleTrilogy.PNGAmazon’s new Kindle Fire has the potential to disrupt the tablet space, but what Amazon did this week may actually be a much bigger deal with much broader implications: it lowered the ereader barrier to entry. And it lowered it on a mass-market level — at $79, the low-end Kindle arguably becomes an impulse buy.

Alex Knapp does a nice job over at Forbes outlining how these shiny new affordable Kindles will affect ebook sales and publishers (and a more in-depth look from a traditional publishing perspective can be found at CNN Money). But Amazon’s long game isn’t to sell hardware, it’s to wrangle customers. Jeff Bezos said as much during the launch announcement: “We don’t think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service.” Once a customer has the device, shopping for nearly anything becomes an easy, seamless experience. As pointed out on Digitopoly, “the battle of the tablets is not a battle of devices, but a battle of ecosystems.”

As excitingly disruptive as this is, there was one point that so far has gone largely overlooked in the media: the privacy issues of Amazon’s Silk browser, which will run on the Kindle Fire. Chris Espinosa describes the situation on his Posterous blog (hat tip to ShelfAwareness):

The “split browser” notion is that Amazon will use its EC2 back end to pre-cache user web browsing, using its fat back-end pipes to grab all the web content at once so the lightweight Fire-based browser has to only download one simple stream from Amazon’s servers. But what this means is that Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet.

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A map in need of a website

BookshopMap.pngOn the opposite end of the disruptive digital spectrum, an extensive map of London’s independent bookstores was published … on paper. As described at The Bookseller:

The London Bookshop Map features 87 indies from across the city including ones selling new, antiquarian, specialist and second-hand titles. The map is free and is available in bookshops and galleries. It features a text work from the artist David Batchelor. The map will be updated every six months and rereleased with a new text artwork.

This is a fun idea for consumers and treasure hunters, and a great way to market indie booksellers. But to garner a larger audience it seems this project would lend itself well to digitization, and maybe even interactivity — perhaps something along the lines of Lonely Planet’s city guides (on a smaller scale, of course). At the very least, this map deserves a website.

The sky might really be falling

The latest survey from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project this week spelled out some dismal news for newspapers. Most notably:

Most Americans (69%) say that if their local newspaper no longer existed, it would not have a major impact on their ability to keep up with information and news about their community.

Click here for interactive version.

That percentage increased to 75% when looking only at 18-29 year-olds. Newspapers aren’t out the door quite yet, however. Though those percentages point to an impending irrelevance, “[a]mong all adults, newspapers were cited as the most relied-upon source or tied for most relied upon for crime, taxes, local government activities, schools, local politics, local jobs, community/neighborhood events, arts events, zoning information, local social services, and real estate/housing.”

You can view the entire report here.


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