The Kindle is for Old Folks

Last Updated May 14, 2009 8:20 PM EDT

Do you know which are the top four magazines read on the Kindle, according to Amazon?

The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time and Reader's Digest. These magazines are popular with the older set; I'm not sure there are any teenagers today who have ever even heard of the Reader's Digest, for example.

Partly due to their publishing cycle and partly due to the demographics of their readership, three of the four are on the endangered species list for magazines, as I've periodically noted over the past months.

The New Yorker is a special case; owned by Conde Nast, it is without a doubt the best-written and edited magazine in the U.S. for serious readers, especially those with a liberal bent politically.

But the point here is not about the magazines but the Kindle, especially the DX, which has gotten a lot of buzz as a possible technological savior for the print publishing industry. I don't think so.

The Kindle DX, by getting bigger, may appeal to the older set, with its fixed habit of reading print newspapers, magazines, and books, but I don't see many young people buying the device. It's expensive, relies on a proprietary as opposed to an open platform, and is not as portable as an iPhone.

Amazon's figures for the most popular magazines confirm that it's Baby Boomers who are attracted to the Kindle, and that's cool -- there are a lot of them and they are retiring, and they should provide a steady revenue stream to Amazon for some time into the future.

But for the larger market opportunity in mobile readers, look to smart phones. This is where the under-30 audience has already migrated, so magazines like The New Yorker, if they wish to remain relevant into the future, need to be figuring out how to migrate their content onto smart phones, which BTW provide a pretty decent reading experience -- far better than a computer screen.

Best of all, mobile provides some new revenue models to media companies. Through affiliate marketing programs and sponsored links, a magazine can start collecting revenue on sales via smart phones today. That's where the action is now, and if anyone at Conde Nast is paying attention, that's where they need to be -- far more than over a Kindle.

(Note: The title of this post is lifted shamelessly from the Read 20-l List that Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive introduced me to recently. It's one of the best communities out there for keeping abreast of intellectual property issues like the Google Books class-action settlement issue. Thanks to Peter also for alerting me to the Economist article that inspired this post.)
  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.

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