Game changers

There are three digital and technology transformations happening very soon that have the potential to change the way media companies deliver information to their users.

NETBOOKS: PC sales are down 7.1% worldwide in Q1 2009. But computer makes hope Netbooks — smaller, trimmed down versions of a PC terrific for web browsing and email — help turn that around. You can buy a netbook now for under $300, but those prices will go lower. Last December, Acer offered a $99 netbook provided users signed a two-year wireless data plan with AT&T. As the wireless carriers get involved, expect to see similar deals at equally low prices.

Netbooks could provide the push for newspaper companies still reluctant to dive into online journalism. We sometimes forget that the newspaper world is not ruled by the big boys, and that there are thousands of healthy, vibrant weeklies and small dailies that provide information to their communities. Many of these would like to get into the online world, but they find the cost of entry prohibitive. They can’t afford to buy a bunch of laptops their reporters can lug to local football games. Would inexpensive netbooks make a difference? I think so. Most of these smaller properties only want to (and only should) post limited and select content online. They could have a couple of “pool” netbooks with an internet connection that would allow for real time updates — and do it for a price they’d find more affordable.

E-readers: These are coming faster than Superman changing in a booth. In the last month alone, Fujitsu began selling its e-reader — designed for newspapers — in Japan. Detroit newspapers and USAToday have signed on with Plastic Logic for its still unreleased e-reader device. Amazon, seeing the new competition, announced it would release a bigger version of the Kindle in Q4 2009.

As I’ve said in the past, e-readers are not a panacea for what ails media companies. But they are an important part of the equation, and more and more companies are going to try to get into this potentially lucrative market.

IPHONE: This has kind of flown under the radar. But USAToday recently reported that Apple has extended it’s agreement, though 2010, to be the exclusive IPhone distributor. I’ve not found anyone who dislikes an IPhone … they just dislike the monthly costs, which can easily exceed $100 per month per phone. If AT&T loses its exclusivity after 2010, and Apple decides to make the phone more widely available to other wireless carriers, we’re sure to see prices drop dramatically. Lower prices would mean a increased adoption rate among users, increasing Apple’s market share (currently about 8% for IPhones). It’s tremendously easy to get information on an IPhone — whether it be text, video, or sound — and media companies would have to react by creating content suitable for the phones (and not just taking current online content and putting in on a smartphone).

There are other things happening that promise to change the game. But these three are big one, and a newspaper’s digital operations should have someone keeping tabs on what’s happening.

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