Can the Kindle Save Publishing?

I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal today about Amazon’s plans to develop a Kindle with a larger screen . The kindle itself may be the most disruptive technology since the iPod. I don’t own a Kindle, but I know several people who do and love the device both for its lightweight size and its ability to auto update the latest editions of their favorite newspapers while they sleep.

A great overview of the Kindle and its potential to change the publishing industry can be found in Joseph Jaffe’s latest VLOG Jaffe talks about how the Kindle can fundamentally change the publishing business. I know that in my blogs and Tweets, I have assailed the publishing industry for a lack of innovation and for not moving fast enough to accept the Web. It has been difficult for the large media companies to let loose their grasp on the legacy revenue streams that made them so rich and powerful. I deal with media reps on a regular basis and as far back as 1997, I was encouraging them to take their content online and develop pay for performance programs. Instead, they separated their traditional and Web sales teams, as well as content development teams, trying to build a Web revenue model separate from their traditional model.

If only they had approached it differently. They had a golden opportunity to develop pay-per-click programs within their own Web sites, sell content and contextual advertising and develop expansive databases. Their outdated approach allowed Google to rise to the top of search and Internet advertising. If they had opened their minds and innovated it could have been different. Oh well, turn the calendar to today and the media companies have a new shot – and it’s the Kindle.

First, let me say that there is something cult-like going on with the Kindle that I find fascinating. I was having a conversation with a client and friend yesterday and we were discussing the Kindle. My friend likes books and he likes going into Barnes and Nobles and having a latte while he browses. He would argue that many hardcore “readers” like the image of themselves sitting in a bookstore drinking a Starbucks and that will not go away anytime soon. I would argue that it is the same hardcore reader that are rapidly adopting the Kindle. They want to read many books, newspapers and magazines at the same time and they are tired of carrying them all around with them. I think they also see a significant “cool” factor associated with having the device.

So, how can the Kindle save publishing? With rapid adoption of the Kindle, a larger screen coming that is more newspaper friendly and more variety of newspapers and magazines, there is a golden opportunity for the publishing industry to create new and innovative advertising tools for their advertisers. What scares me is that the media companies will approach the device like print and simply show ads off to the side. They will also want to charge the CPM they did when they were printing millions of copies. That won’t work either. The first thing I would tell them is to focus on content and contextual advertising. They will have to blur the lines between their editorial and advertising sales teams which will be difficult for them. The next thing they need to do is be innovative and look to creative ways to gain more eyeballs. It will be interesting to see what happens. All I know is that if they approach the Kindle like they did the Web, they will fail.