Sunday, July 12, 2009

PC Mag and BusinessWeek on the Kindle

I've been an on-again, off-again print subscriber to PC Magazine and BusinessWeek for many years. I let my PC Mag subscription lapse a couple of years ago, lost track of them and assumed they went belly up. The last several PC Mag issues I saw on newsstands were pretty thin, hence the assumption that they went away.

New magazines seem to appear on the Kindle without a lot of fanfare. PC Mag is currently #5 and BusinessWeek is #10 on Amazon's Kindle magazine bestseller list, but initially it was hard to find either anywhere on the site (despite the fact that you could subscribe to both if you found them!). Another example from the newspaper side is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I've been subscribing for a few months but up until recently it almost impossible to find The Trib on the site. (I'm wondering if Amazon does soft launches initially, letting subscribers slowly sign up, then waits to make sure there are no major problems/complaints before making it more public.)

Having looked pretty closely at the latest Kindle edition issues of both PC Magazine and BusinessWeek I have to say I'm not overly impressed with either. PC Mag is definitely pretty lightweight. I read the small number of articles that interested me in less than 20 minutes. This is a magazine I used to invest at least 2-3 hours immersed in every time a new issue arrived. Yikes. Even John Dvorak's stuff just ain't what it used to be.

BusinessWeek's problem isn't so much the lack of content. All the regular columns appear to be intact. Even the tiniest of sidebar elements seem to have made it through to the Kindle edition. What's missing though are some of the USAToday-like standalone graphics that frequently catch my eye. I'm not sure why BusinessWeek didn't just include images of these but their absence is disappointing.

More importantly, I'm starting to become as discouraged about the quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions the magazine business is doing, similar to what the book publishing world has done up to now. Nobody's really fully leveraging the Kindle's full capability. When was the last time you saw a Kindle version of a product that had more e-functionality built into it than the static print version? And let's not be satisfied with embedded links, although most of those opportunities are often missed as well! I'm talking about really taking advantage of the wireless connection and dynamic content capabilities the Kindle offers.

I blame some of this on Amazon for having such a closed model and not allowing for a third-party development ecosystem like what Apple has done for the iPhone, but most of the responsibility lies with the content publishers. I don't see anyone stepping up and creating some great, new Kindle content that wows you. I almost get the impression we're all figuring te Kindle is a flash-in-the-pan and we (publishers) don't want to spend too much on it for fear of it going away tomorrow. That's a valid concern, particularly if Apple comes through with their much-rumored "iPad."

At this point though, it's hard for me to get overly excited about Kindle content unless it's available at rock-bottom prices, and that's not much of a reason to get excited for the future, is it?

10 comments:

Reb Yudel said...

What Kindle features are worth coding for?

I'm still excited by (and holding out for) the promise of Adobe's PDF+Flash combination. Imagine full color, publisher-defined typography, and interactive movies! When that comes to Kindle or the equivalent, you'll get some creativity. And because it can be output directly from InDesign, magazine publishers will take advantage of the features.

But back to Kindle. I've adapted three of my company's titles to the Kindle, and getting ready for the fourth. I see a format that has all the weaknesses of 1995 HTML. What am I missing? And has anyone published a Kindle Cookbook in a Nutshell?

Mary McManus said...

Joe, unlike you, I don't need a multi-media presentation to knock my socks off when reading a periodical on the Kindle. I do understand your wanting the Business Week graphs. In the meantime, I am quite content with Newsweek and the Chicago Tribune. Also Slate which is one of my favorites. Slate is oddly referred to as a magazine, even though it appears daily. I much prefer reading those and the NY Times Latest News (characterized as a blog) on my Kindle as opposed to either in print or on the web since it is a lot easier on the eyes. Articles are much less distracting when I can read the whole thing sequentially rather than having to find the rest of the article on another page. I do agree with you about PC Magazine on the Kindle, not worth wasting time on. At least we got a free trial.

Radio Babylon said...

call me crazy but... i dont WANT something that "takes advantage of the wireless and dynamic content capabilities" of my kindle. what i WANT is an *e-reader*... as in, an ipod for books. thats it. i want it to be crisp, readable, and have a long battery life. thats it.

if i wanted a netbook, id buy a netbook. if i wanted an iphone, id buy an iphone. i dont want those things out of an e-reader. i want a dedicated device that does one thing extremely well: display static print in a power-efficient portable package. and in that respect, the kindle is everything i want it to be. low cost books and a convenient delivery mechanism are the icing on the cake.

i feel the same sense of head-shaking incredulity out of people who keep asking "so when will video capabilities come to e-readers??" i mean... video? reader? its a textbook case of "missing the point"...

if you cant find yourself excited by carrying around hundreds (or thousands!) of books, indexed and searchable, in a tiny device roughly the size of a trade paperback... well, i dunno, but im guessing e-readers arent the device for you.

Joe Wikert said...

I guess I'm the only Kindle owner scratching my head wondering why the crazy thing can't do more. Maybe I've been too spoiled by my iPhone. I know lots of people just want to make calls but quite a few others like to extend the iPhone's functionality, hence the popularity of 50K+ apps.

The good news is we can have our cake and eat it too...one day...hopefully. There's no reason a fully-featured device like what I'm hoping for couldn't also perform the simple task of presenting content from a static ebook.

Radio Babylon said...

a full-featured device like you want would almost certainly miss my other requirement for an e-reader though: looooong battery life. it would almost certainly be much more expensive as well, which negates the advantage i get from the cheaper (usually) e-format books. and when you read 100-120 books a year, that makes a difference.

im really not interested in having my cake and eating it too, because im *not interested in the cake*

Joe Wikert said...

I'm not sure I agree with you, Radio Babylon. Features can be turned on and off as needed. I do that on my iPhone all the time. If I'm on the road, looking to stretch my battery life I turn 3G off, for example.

Joe Wikert said...

And P.S., Radio Babylon... If you really have zero interest in these additional features, well, that's why there would be a number of models. The low-end would have few features and would be low-priced. Other models could sit on top of that though with features and a price tag to match.

Radio Babylon said...

historically, the pricing for the "low end" models is usually very close to the "high end" in consumer electronics. the low end often exists only as a way to sell more high end stuff, because people's brains are wired to perform value comparisons, so by pricing the low end very close to the high end, many many people who *never would have bought the high end product had it been offered alone* will wind up buying the high-end after seeing that its only, say, 15% more than the low end, and wow look at all the extra features i get for that 15%! (see Dan Ariely's "predictably irrational" for more examples of market shenanigans designed to bilk the easily manipulated)

so if the trend to stack features that have not a whit to do with READING on a READER will do nothing but drive the price up for ALL reading devices, which is a bad thing from my perspective...

Mike Donovan said...

Just so you know, PC MAGAZINE went "web only" in January. That was my last print issue. They no longer actually "print" a magazine. The description an Amazon makes it sound otherwise, but no, PC Magazine is all-web and a shadow of is former self.

Anonymous said...

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