Publishing News: It’s time to embrace mobile

Reader behavior is becoming more mobile, ereaders may be facing extinction, and Google ends copyright dispute with Belgian newspapers.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention this week.

Readers are going mobile, so too should publishers

In a recent video interview with Shama.TV, Cheezburger Network CEO Ben Huh talks about the future of journalism and says he feels the discipline is gearing up to go through an innovative process.

In order for journalism to maintain its influence in new media, Huh argues, our current way of thinking about journalism in the context of location and format (print newspapers, magazines, TV, etc.) needs to adjust to embrace readers’ changing viewing habits and the new ways people consume news — on mobile platforms like phones and tablets, for instance. Huh says:

“Right now, journalism expects you to read the story in the newspaper from top to bottom and understand everything. People don’t gather news that way. They get it from several different sources, they read multiple stories, they synthesize their own reasoning, and you have to support that.”

Huh, who actually studied journalism at Northwestern, also talks about his new startup Circa, a mobile news app. “I think articles are not meant for the Internet,” he says. “I think that articles are not meant for mobile. … I think articles are for certain things, but not for breaking news.” You can watch Huh’s full interview here. (Hat tip to Meranda Watling at 10,000 Words for highlighting this interview.)

Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper and, more recently, The Magazine, made a related point in a recent blog post. He’s responding in this post to assertions that he launched The Magazine to serve as a kind of template for success or that he created it in order to “save journalism,” but he also makes a strong point about how approaches to publishing need to change with the times. Arment writes:

“In the past, publications had a harder time differentiating themselves. Magazines and newspapers all needed to be the same sizes and shapes, working the same ways with the same business models and the same limitations. Today, we can all tailor our publications to our needs much more closely. ‘Tablet-native’ publishing shouldn’t mean any particular multimedia features or structures. True tablet-native publishing should mean using the freedom of modern platforms to break out of the idea that publications need to follow a universal mold.”

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Are ereaders facing extinction?

Headline news this week circled around a report released Monday by market research firm IHS iSuppli indicating the end of ereaders is nigh. According to the report, ereader shipments will fall 36% year-over-year to 14.9 million devices by the end of 2012, with declines continuing another estimated 27% in 2013. By 2016, the report estimates unit shipments to drop to just 7.1 million devices. The release for the report very dramatically identifies the underlying issue behind the decline:

“[T]he stunning rise and then blazing flameout of ebooks perfectly encapsulate what has become an axiomatic truth in the industry: Single-task devices like the ebook are being replaced without remorse in the lives of consumers by their multifunction equivalents, in this case by media tablets.”

Todd Bishop at GeekWire likens the reported tablet triumph over ereaders to the “impact that smartphones have had on dedicated music players and cameras.” John Paczkowski at AllThingDigital notes that consumers are starting to view tablets as “a better value proposition than the single-use e-reader.” Emil Protalinski at The Next Web says that though the reports’ predictions are estimates, the trend is clear:

“… one has to point out that Amazon just reported its biggest single day for Kindle sales ever. Right, but those include both dedicated ebook readers and multi-purpose tablets. As iSuppli notes, Amazon is converting consumers from the Kindle ebook reader to the Kindle Fire media tablet.”

Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent, however, says the report is off-mark. She points out the advantages ereaders have over tablets — lighter weight, longer battery life, better screens for reading — and notes that ereaders don’t need to be replaced that often, so of course growth is going to level off. “But just as professional photographers aren’t throwing out their SLRs for an iPhone,” she writes, “heavy readers won’t swap their e-reader for a tablet — though they might own both.”

A new chapter emerged this week in Google’s contentious relationship with newspapers. Jeff John Roberts at PaidContent reports that Google announced in a blog post that “it has resolved a long-running dispute with Belgian newspapers that have demanded copyright fees every time Google displays a link or excerpts to one of their stories.” The resolution, Google says in the post, came in the form of a “collaboration” to make money, but it insists its not paying for content rights — to which Roberts responds, “Oh, really?”

Digging in, Roberts attempts to get to the bottom of what really happened. He writes:

“The solution to the mystery lies in a part of the blog post where Google explains the ways it will work with the papers, including: ‘Google will advertise its services on the publishers’ media.’ In other words, the American search giant appears to have bought millions of dollars of advertising in the hopes of staving off a direct copyright levy.”

Roberts notes that it doesn’t appear to be a bad deal for Google, but that it could open the flood gates for the rest of the countries looking to get Google to share the wealth. You can read Roberts’ full report here.

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