Tech vs. Trees: Smaller tablet could hit sweet spot for newspaper apps, wealthy Americans flip for glossy pages, JK Rowling's new e-book arrives amid pricing settlement

LOS ANGELES , September 28, 2012 () – A roundup of recent trends pitting technology against the printed word:

Tech + Trees: Smaller tablets could be just right for newspaper apps

By the end of the year, Apple, Amazon and Google will have introduced smaller tablets that could provide a promising platform for newspaper apps, The Guardian reported Sept. 2. These devices, which include Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Google’s Nexus 7 and Apple’s rumored mini iPad, have screens measuring 7-7.85 inches and are expected to cost roughly £150 (US$243.37)—less expensive than an iPad, for example. On Sept. 26, Barnes & Noble also launched its 7-inch Nook HD for US$199. The smaller devices allow for improved portability compared with a 9-inch tablet and a larger screen compared with a smartphone, which could sway readers to download more newspaper and magazine apps to read on public transit. Despite the promise of more newspaper app users, the demand for such apps isn’t strong, according to a US survey by Nielsen in January. It showed that one-third of tablet and smartphone owners downloaded a news app within the past 30 days, with only 3% buying an app and 16% downloading either paid or free apps. On the other hand, the apps could experience a Goldilocks moment when a smartphone is too small, a tablet is too big, and a smaller tablet is well … you know.

Tech: E-book of JK Rowling’s latest novel arrives amid pricing settlement

If you can’t wait to pick up an e-book copy of J.K. Rowling’s newest non-Harry Potter novel The Casual Vacancy, you will likely face a US$17.99 price tag, but for those who can hold out a few weeks, a price drop could occur as the settlement between publishers and the U.S. Dept. of Justice takes effect, Time reported Sept. 27. The book’s publisher Hachette Livre is currently in the process of settling with the USDOJ, along with HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. Hachette CEO David Young told The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 26 that the publisher has not come to new agreements with retailers, as HarperCollins has. (HarperCollins’ newly released and anticipated e-books, such as Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, have sold on Amazon for $9.99.) According to Time, publishers are given about 60 days to end previous contracts and forge new ones under the settlement. Hachette finds itself in an ideal but temporary position where Apple no longer restricts its prices—under that contract, the maximum price for this particular title is $16.99—but other retailers such as Amazon also aren’t currently allowed to offer the deep discounts they once did. 

Trees: Wealthy Americans show penchant for print

What do Americans making more than US$100,000 have in common? Since this is Tech vs. Trees, the answer may be surprising, as 82% of these so-called Affluents regularly read at least one of 150 measured and reported print publication, found Ipsos MediaCT’s 2012 Mendelsohn Affluent Survey. These 150 publications include 143 magazines and seven national newspapers, and Affluents read an average of 18.7 issues across an average of 8.2 titles. That penchant for print is even greater for American households making more than $250,000, as they consume 25% more print media and read on average 23.5 issues across an average of 10 titles. Advertisers should also take note about the power of print, as magazines rank just behind TV when it comes to advertising reach and receptivity despite the disproportionate tablet and smartphone penetration in this demographic. The survey found that 47% live in a household with a tablet and more than 55% own a smartphone, considering that 59 million Americans are considered Affluents.

Trees: Time Out gives away London edition, raises circulation more than fivefold

Time Out’s £3.25 (US$5.27) London edition is now a free magazine, beginning Sept. 25, and comes with a circulation surge to 300,000 from 55,000, reported various sources. The move aims to raise the price of the reviews and events magazine’s ad space, offsetting revenues previously generated from the cover price, The Guardian reported Aug. 1. Other factors include the increasing availability of free online listings and the successful launches of lifestyle publications, such as Shortlist and Stylist, in addition to The London Evening Standard’s switch to becoming a free publication almost three years ago. At its height, Time Out’s circulation exceeded 110,000. That’s half of what it sells today, with 32,000 copies now sold as subscriptions and 10,000-12,000 sold on newsstands, while the rest given away. London is the only city out of 37 that carries the free Time Out edition, and the magazine’s editorial-advertising ratio will shift to 60/40 from 70/30. According to the Time Out website, the publication will be distributed at tube stations, museums and other cultural locations, while subscriptions are also free but include a fee for postage.

Trees: Tiny printer is impossibly cute, possibly impractical

A U.K. design agency’s first commercial product is likely to appeal to the “awww” factor of the impossibly cute but possibly impractical gadgets—a tiny receipt printer for £199 (US$322.25) that prints out everything from Twitter messages and to-do lists to actual news and weather reports. London-based design agency Berg, which came up with “Little Printer,” latched on its interest in “technologies that are so cheap that they find their way into the world in pervasive and odd ways,” according to Matt Jones, one of the principals of Berg. The printer may be cute on the outside, but the gadget demonstrates its complexity by combining both high-tech and low-tech, according to Fast Co.Design. While it is a basic receipt printer that prints on 50-cent rolls of thermal paper, it also boasts a cloud connection that pulls the aforementioned news and weather, as well as Instagrams, tweets, foursquare and Google Tasks. While having a personal ticker tape sounds like fun, it comes at a price—or as one of the responders on the Co.DESIGN site expressed, “It’s a nice idea, but $250 for that little thing is absolutely absurd.”

Trees: Magazines seeking delivery alternatives to USPS

To save on postage, New York Magazine is adopting the personal touch—by hand-delivering almost 60,000 of its glossy publication to Manhattan buildings, Ad Age reported Sept. 26. That’s still well below its circulation of 405,149 for the first half of the year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, but the experiment could give the publisher a glimpse into options in case of U.S. Postal Service changes “that may be more onerous,” according to a spokeswoman, Ad Age reported. New York isn’t the only publication to look for alternative delivery methods. Bloomberg Businessweek, for example, has used newspaper carriers to deliver subscription copies across large urban areas. It’s no secret that USPS is hemorrhaging losses, and while publications looking into shifting its delivery needs could seem problematic, the postal service has likewise looked elsewhere for financial reprieve. In August, USPS struck a deal with Valassis, giving it a 34% discount in exchange for boosting the amount of advertising inserts, coupons and other direct mail that fills our mailboxes.  

Trees: China spending US$2B+ on textbooks for rural students

While digital has dominated the news about textbooks across American cities and states as well as Asian countries such as South Korea, China has announced spending 13.44 billion yuan (US$2.13 billion) on print textbooks for 130 million rural children in 2012, according to the nation’s Ministry of Finance, Global Times—Xinhua reported Sept. 25. The investment also brings with it a recycling system, which replaces some textbooks to keep with China’s education reforms, which aim to provide a free education to all students. Moreover, China has put a cap on textbook prices for elementary and high school students to make education affordable and to prevent publishers from selling overpriced textbooks. This effort could be keeping with China’s current five-year plan, which aims to get 80% of its 1.3 billion residents to read books or periodicals by 2015 by means of accelerating “the construction of farmers’ libraries, and urban and rural newspaper reading boards.” The goal also outlines that by 2015, “each Chinese citizen will have, on average, 5.8 books and 3.1 periodicals every year.” 

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