Apple is said to be "readying a device that may make it easier to read digital books and periodicals," according to a Wall Street Journal report that cites anonymous sources for the story.
The article's takeaway: If digital publication is the answer to publisher's current financial problems, the Kindle is the wrong answer. The $359 device is hated by many newspaper and magazine publishers for three reasons: The Kindle's display is too small. There's no function parallel to flipping through a magazine or newspaper. And the Kindle doesn't support advertising.
The Journal article acknowledges that News Corp., Rupert Murdoch's firm that bought the WSJ in 2007, is seeking a Kindle alternative. The Journal is second only to the New York Times in Kindle newspaper sales, but it counts only 15,000 Kindle subscribers, compared to more than 2,000,000 daily readers for the print version.
The Journal's report, like today's story in the New York Times, is pegged to a press release from Plastic Logic last week that announced partnerships with the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit Weekly. With a circulation of 300,000, the Free Press is an impressive partner for Plastic Logic to cite to other newspaper publishers.
But read the fine print: Plastic Logic's device, the Plastic Logic Reader, won't be available until next year. That's one reason Apple's reported product excites publishers. Another is the Apple brand name. The Kindle is kind of a success for Amazon, but it's still a niche product. Newspapers offering content for the Plastic Logic Reader would have to start by explaining what the thing is.
An Apple reader would practically market itself, from a newspaper publisher's point of view. But even Apple has a mixed record in converting consumers to its digital media products. Would an Apple reader for books, newspapers and magazines be the next iPod, or the next Apple TV?
(Disclosure: Paul Boutin is a freelance writer for both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.)
Note: This blog first appeared on our sister site The Industry Standard.