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Could Amazon save the newspaper? Not by itself.

By Matthew Shaer / May 4, 2009

An early look at the big-screen Plastic Logic reader.

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In a move that has stirred up the blogosphere into a frothing, foaming frenzy, Amazon has hinted that it could introduce a big-screen Kindle by Wednesday. Several other companies are developing similar devices, the New York Times is reporting, including Plastic Logic:

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These devices from Amazon and other manufacturers offer an almost irresistible proposition to newspaper and magazine industries. They would allow publishers to save millions on the cost of printing and distributing their publications, at precisely a time when their businesses are under historic levels of pressure.

Let's have some calm, people

This news is being received ecstatically just about everywhere – especially, apparently, in the New York Times newsroom. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. If the regular Kindle hasn't singlehandedly saved publishing (yes, it's still in the soup), how could the plus-sized Kindle save newspapers?

No silver bullet

As proved by the collapse of papers such as the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and the gray pall cast over the Boston Globe, among others), there is no one problem with the industry. It's a manifold disaster: advertising is down, the economy is down, and many 20-somethings don't want anything to do with a newspaper, whether it's printed on dead trees or emblazoned on a digital screen. Amazon's new device is a start, but it's no panacea.

Still, it's a start

We'll wait to pass judgment on the plus-sized Kindle until its roll out on Wednesday. In the meantime, let's talk about how – theoretically – a manufacturer might be able to stir up some cash with a digital newspaper reader. Send in some of your own suggestions in the comments section, and I'll roll them into the next post. Here are a couple that come to mind immediately:

• Advertising customized to the user's location. Let's say you are reading the paper in a downtown coffee shop. The device might point you to the nearest bookstore, or movie theater, or museum, depending on the type of content you are consuming.
• A networking function, where friends and family could flag and shuttle good stories from one device to another.

Subscriptions: Nope, still don't want 'em

Of course there's always the chance that some media bigwigs will use this new Kindle to backslide into the same practices that got them into the newspaper mess to begin with. (We've said it once, and we'll say it again: Information wants to be free.) I leave you on a somber note, with an excerpt from the same Times article:

Publishers could possibly use these new mobile reading devices to hit the reset button and return in some form to their original business model: selling subscriptions....

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