The Kindle is now more than 18 months old and there are still only 24 magazines available for it. Why so few? I've heard several reasons why and the most likely ones are (a) the magazine publishers don't like the financial terms offered by Amazon and (b) they also don't want to give up control of their content (and direct customer access) to Amazon. I've got an idea that solves both these problems and would make Kindle owners everywhere much, much happier.
The company I work for, O'Reilly Media, Inc., sells Kindle editions on Amazon's website. We don't rely on Amazon as our only means of access to Kindle owners though. We also sell e-book bundles on our site and those bundles feature all the popular formats including .mobi for the Kindle. Magazine publishers (and newspapers too, for that matter) should take the same approach and sell Kindle content right from their own websites.
Granted, we're talking about a single block of content with a book vs. an ongoing subscription with a magazine or newspaper...and that's where things get interesting...
Amazon has a document conversion service for all Kindle owners. I can e-mail a PDF to my Kindle address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Amazon will convert that PDF and wirelessly send it to my Kindle. The service used to be free but now it costs 15 cents per meg for the upload. Each of the magazine issues currently on my Kindle (The New Yorker and Technology Review) are less than one meg, btw.
Here's how the model would work: Each magazine website would simply add another option to their new subscriber page. This option would be for Kindle delivery. Choose it, give the magazine publisher your @kindle.com address, set your Kindle e-mail account to accept incoming messages from that magazine's server and you're done. The result is a direct relationship (again) between magazine publisher and customer; it's just that this particular customer happens to receive issues via their Kindle.
That's how the front-end works, but how about the back-end? The magazine publisher could prep the issue in PDF format, send it to the customer's @kindle.com address and let Amazon do the conversion and upload work for them. Sure, Amazon gets 15 cents/meg, but each magazine publisher would simply have to figure out how much that translates to per issue and price the subscription accordingly. Btw, if you want to avoid the Amazon charges, have the subscription sent to your @free.kindle.com address and simply move the content from in-box to Kindle via USB cable. Another option is to take that last option a step further, automate it a bit, and go back to wireless delivery, like KindleFeeder now offers.
As a magazine publisher you'd keep 100% of the subscription price. You'd also do away with printing and postage fees, so please keep that in mind when setting the subscription price! Finally, you could determine how much advertising you want to keep in the digital edition. Maybe you'd want to offer two plans: A higher-priced subscription with no ads and a lower-priced one with all the regular ads. As an added bonus, those ads could now have live links to the advertiser sites; good luck pulling that off in the print edition.
Speaking for Kindle owners everywhere, I hope magazine publishers will follow O'Reilly's lead and start offering a direct-to-Kindle-customer subscription plan. What do you have to lose?!
P.S. -- Why am I so comfortable publishing my Kindle e-mail address here? Because every spammer in the world can send messages to it and they won't get through. I give Amazon a list of acceptable incoming e-mail addresses and none of them are from spammers.