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Netbooks saving newspapers: It's catching on!

Much to my surprise, there's a bit of a buzz about an idea I wrote about here a few weeks ago, that cheap-to-virtually free computers laptops called netbooks could be a vehicle for saving troubled news organizations, especially in urban locales like Philadelphia. The low-cost device could be tied to a kind of online subscription to the news org -- and free netbooks and subscriptions in poorer neighborhoods could be a great tool for community building. I think this idea has more promise than the Kindle because I think the average person will find regular Internet access more useful than a device that collects text.

Now, others are picking up the ball and running with it, like Simon Dumenco, the media writer for Advertising Age:

This past winter, to cite a nascent example, in selected markets Acer started selling one of its netbook models at Radio Shack for $100, provided you signed a two-year cellphone-style contract with its broadband-wireless partner, AT&T. Arguably, the hardware industry can't survive without shifting, at least in part, to such good old-fashioned subscription models -- the kind the media industry invented.

Now imagine another netbook maker marketing a cooler, more useful $100 (or $50 or $0) competitor, and carving out a niche for itself with a higher-priced monthly subscription fee for a tiered level of media access -- with, say, Hulu Premium, or a Kindle-like book-subscription service or Times Reader 3.0 from The New York Times.

In other words, hardware makers may have no choice but to turn their internet devices into multi-tier-subscription-based media machines, because there will never again be enough margin in the basic price of the hardware. And the more we get used to the idea of essentially subscribing to media as a way to pay for hardware ... well, the more hope there is for media.

Exactly! Now, the question is, when does this kind of wisdom filter up to the people making decisions?