E-readers: Not The Hoped-For Newspaper Industry Savior

While many in the newspaper industry hold out hope that the sudden onset of e-readers will be their savior, a study out of the University of Georgia cautions, well, caution.  Professors of advertising Dean Krugman and Tom Reichert, and Barry Hollander, an associate professor of journalism in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, conducted the study over six months last year.

Their conclusion, after holding in-depth interviews and hosting focus groups with Athens-area residents provided Kindles upon which to read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? It's nice and all, but not really the best way to read news.

The main issue, for younger readers, was the device's lack of ability to do anything but act as an e-reader. Thus a different experiment, at Abilene Christian University in Texas, might have a different result. The school plans to have its student paper, The Optimist, optimized for the Apple iPad by Spring. The iPad, of course, has full internet connectivity and readers would be able to click through hyperlinks in stories and e-mail the story authors directly from the device.

The University of Georgia professors chose 2009 to do the study, because the Atlanta daily dropped the city from its home delivery circulation area last year.  "We are in the first phase of the project which compares e-readers, such as the Kindle, to traditional newspapers and online delivery systems," Krugman said in a statement. "Our focus is on the way people consume media in a rapidly changing environment. Earlier, we employed similar methods when studying the growth of the multi-channel television environment.While everyone agreed the Kindle was "easy on the eyes," and reading on it was pleasant, it didn't really satisfy anyone. The younger readers, as already noted, disliked the single-use of it and said it seemed "old." Older readers liked it, but were disappointed some of their favorite features - crosswords and comics - weren't available on it. 

And, of course, there was the price: $489 for the
Kindle DX. To read a newspaper. Which you can read for free online with your desktop or laptop or smartphone.

That's not to say that newspapers couldn't benefit from e-readers at all. If enough people bought them for reading books and magazines, newspapers could use them, too. But they seem unlikely, at this point, to be an industry savior, the professors believe.