Publishers should prepare now for widespread e-reader use

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"Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land?...Lord, there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go,” wrote Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. He went on to say: “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Dramatic? Yes. We're no longer worried about book burners destroying our culture, and the culture itself appears pretty much intact. It's just the method of consumption that's changing, and it's quite possible that not long from now kids will come up without the knowledge (unless they read Bradbury) that books smell like nutmeg.

The culprits are e-readers: Amazon's Kindle, Interead's Cool-er, Sony's Reader, Bookeen's Cybook Opus, Plastic Logic's QUE (launching in January)  and Barnes & Noble’s just-announced Nook.  

The number of e-reader options indicate to media companies a demand for the devices. So how will publishers leverage the platform?

The good news is that users of these devices are paying for content. Consider the possibilities in offering a la carte content and flexibility in subscription packages on readers—allowing users to order only one issue, or bundle brands to encourage purchases, for example. There are opportunities there, but will there be advertising?

A British IT website reported in July that Amazon's master plan (with patents to prove it) is introducing contextual advertising around Kindle content—content that users pay for. The argument is that advertising will lower prices for consumers (thus encouraging more widespread use of e-readers).

Perhaps now is the time for publishers to consider their future advertising options on e-readers—and to become reacquainted with the classics. Martha Stewart Living could position itself next to The Secret Garden, for example, or Cygnus' Firehouse.com could have a look at Fahrenheit 451.

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