E-Readers in 2010: DIY or Partner With Amazon, Sony, Plastic Logic, et. al.

Last Updated Jan 9, 2010 11:14 PM EST

If you scan the many predictions for the media industry in 2010, one consensus is that e-readers will become a much more important channel for content distribution over the coming year.

For example, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) predicted that sales of e-readers sales will double again this year, just as they did in 2009, and continue along that trajectory for years to come.

Folio's Bruce Jensen identified "Multichannel 24/7 Content Distribution" as the top magazine industry trend for 2010. He cited a Research Brief study that found that 70 percent of publishers are paying more attention to the mobile market this year than in 2009. "More specifically, 42.4 percent of consumer magazines and 44.7 percent of business publishers are formatting websites for mobile viewing."

Meanwhile, publishing in Slate, Marion Maneker raised the salient question: "Does Every Publisher Really Need Its Own E-Reader?" Or, alternatively, should publishers partner with one of the existing technology offerings?

In that context, Nat Ives, reports in Advertising Age that some major publishers are exploring deals with e-readers like the Que from Plastic Logic and the Reader Daily Edition from Sony, because they are offering better revenue shares than does industry leader Amazon with its Kindle.

Amazon has reportedly grabbed up to 70 percent of the revenue from publishers via the Kindle and even withheld the names of the publication's own subscribers over the device. Therefore, competitors sense an opening and are moving in quickly.

The Wall Street Journal has, accordingly, recently announced a new deal with Sony.

So, back to that question Maneker raised about whether publishers should be developing their own proprietary devices, as opposed to layering their brands over existing devices. News reports have the cash-rich Hearst Corp. developing its own Skiff e-reader device.

Even though Hearst reportedly has a $1 billion war chest and is evaluating a wide range of digital media purchases and investments, developing its own new e-reader platform strikes me as highly questionable, if that indeed is what the Skiff project proves to be.

Every emerging technology features a period where multiple platforms fight it out to gain market dominance. If I were to place a bet, it would be on a technology company, not a media company, to come up with the eventual winner.

Until then, short-term deals with the various providers appears to be the best way to go. Ride the consumer adoption curve up, and help drive the device costs down. One way or another, every media brand needs a mobile presence now, because that is where the consumer is headed in 2010 and beyond.

Please check out Lydia Dishman's interesting post on e-readers here at BNET Media.

  • 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.