Last May, I finally took the full digital plunge and canceled my print subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle after 18 years. The cost was becoming too much, and I felt it was a good time to experiment with getting my news in digital form — and to write about it here. In my first installment of “Kicking Ink,” I gave the pros and cons of dropping my print subscription. Now I’ll provide an update on how the transition has played out so far, with a rundown on which device is winning in terms of my news consumption habits.
I’m surprised at how little I miss the printed paper. I’ve been using a Kindle 2 to read the San Francisco Chronicle (at $5.99 per month), and my iPhone to read the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Reuters and AP (for free). I read everything else on my home computer or laptop. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, though the newspaper was definitely better for quick browsing. I also used to read every section of the printed paper. Now I find myself moving from the Kindle version of the Chronicle’s front page to world news and sports with little notice of the business or entertainment sections.
Probably the biggest surprise so far is how much more I enjoy reading on the iPhone (see the breakdown below) than on the Kindle. In spite of its smaller screen, the iPhone offers a better experience — easier interface, quicker response, color screen, and cheaper price tag for content. What I’ve lost in the portability of the printed paper is easily made up by the portability of my iPhone, which I take everywhere.
So here’s a breakdown of which device works best for me in various categories now that I’ve replaced my print newspaper experience with a digital one.
The Kindle has an annoying sliding power switch and a square “joystick” that often gets pushed the wrong way. I have to hunt around for menus, and cycle through various pages to get to newspaper sections. On the iPhone, I can use the touch-screen to choose the story I want, zoom in or out very quickly using double-touch, and scroll through stories with a swipe of the finger. With the Kindle, I am hitting the “Next Page” button a bunch of times just to get through one story.
The Kindle 2 cost $359, while the iPhone was $299. The Kindle doesn’t charge for data and the iPhone data plan is $30 per month. All the news content I get on the iPhone comes from free apps, though they could charge for those in the future. I pay $5.99 per month for the San Francisco Chronicle on the Kindle. So while newspaper content is technically free on the iPhone, I still have to pay for a data plan each month. This one is essentially a draw.
I had much higher expectations for the Kindle and its E-Ink screen that reduces glare from the sun. But the reality is that I rarely read either device in the sun. The Kindle offers grayscale pictures and carries photos from the Chronicle, but they’re just not as nice as the color images on my iPhone — even though they appear on a smaller screen. The touch-screen alone gives the iPhone an edge, and it makes me crave touch screens on future e-reader devices.
Breadth of content
The Kindle Store offers roughly 46 newspapers, 34 magazines, and more than 7,000 blogs (including the one you’re reading). The iPhone App Store has dozens of newspaper and magazine apps, including many unofficial apps that help you find your favorite content (there’s even an iDrudge app to read Drudge Report). Though the Kindle appears to have a greater number of traditional media outlets and blogs to choose from, they all come with a price tag. The iPhone’s apps are largely free. Plus, many apps help aggregate information, offering even better ways to get news than on the Kindle.
I realize that performance varies from device to device, but my experience with the Kindle has been pretty underwhelming. I hit a button and wait… and wait… and wait. Eventually, a page turns or something happens. I don’t know why the performance is so slow but that’s the way it’s been. It varies from day to day, but generally the Kindle is much slower than the iPhone. I heard people complain about the way the New York Times’ iPhone app crashes and, not long after, I started having the same problem. But it still beats the Kindle’s slowness.
It’s hard to rate sharing when I have shared almost nothing from my iPhone or my Kindle (not that I can share on my Kindle, outside of physically passing it to someone). I still share the vast majority of stories using my computer, where it’s much easier to do so via Twitter or email. The typical computer web browsing experience still retains an edge for me when it comes to sharing.
I live in Potrero Hill in San Francisco and I receive lousy cell reception from AT&T on my iPhone, and the same from Sprint on my Kindle. That means both of these devices score low when it comes to connectivity. However, the iPhone breaks the tie because I can use WiFi (unlike with the Kindle), which makes my downloads much faster. With the Kindle, I have to prompt the device to check for updates at least twice before it updates with the latest issue of the Chronicle — a process that takes about 5 minutes each morning.
When my son Julian wanted to do some painting projects, I pulled out some old newspapers I had from before dropping my subscription. I then realized that it might be a good idea to hold onto some old newspapers just in case more art projects came along. Finally, I have a use for the advertising circulars and random magazines I get in the mail.
Edge: Print publications.
Overall, the iPhone has become my favorite device for reading daily news, and my guess is that I might drop the Kindle entirely if the Chronicle launched an iPhone app. This is bad news for newspaper companies, especially if I’m not alone in this regard. But perhaps they will evolve their business model and start charging for their apps. I know I would pay for the New York Times iPhone app as long as it was reasonable. ($49 per year? I’d buy that.)
Future Kindles will need to have color touch-screens, better interfaces and improved connectivity if they are going to compete as my daily news e-reader. Otherwise, smartphones will leapfrog the Kindle.
What’s your experience using the iPhone or Kindle to get your daily news fix? What other devices do you use and how do they stack up? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and you can follow more of my thoughts about Kicking Ink on my Twitter feed.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.