Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Will Print Die? Not Today.
Publishing Executive Magazine
In his column on page 42 [seePart 1 in today's Newsletter], columnist Bob Sacks writes: "The only thing holding [digital magazine editions] back presently is a perfect substrate." That's sort of like saying, "The only thing holding me back from a fabulous singing career is my voice."
The key to any new medium seems to be the benefit to the user. When cassette tapes came out, I never wondered whether they would replace vinyl. Cassettes wouldn't scratch, they took up less space, and you could play them in the car.
When CDs came out, did anyone wonder whether they would replace cassettes? CDs didn't get "eaten" or melt in the sun, and you didn't have to fast forward to find the beginning of the next song.
Then came the iPod-it's teensy-tiny, it won't scratch or melt, it's easy and inexpensive to download music, and it can do many things a CD, cassette or record can't. With each new medium, the benefits to the music fan increased dramatically.
But e-books' and digital editions' future is under debate. Will they be the future? Bob Sacks says yes. Many disagree.
E-editions and e-books do save on space. But are books or magazines really that cumbersome compared to laptops or even e-readers? How often do most people carry them around anyway, and particularly several at once? Students, along with frequent travelers (who Sony initially targeted with its Reader), may be the exception. Are print pages difficult or time-
consuming to flip? Print publications are already quite cheap and convenient (delivered to your door).
But there are benefits: archives and searches available with many digital editions; rich media enhancements and live links; timeliness-you can eliminate printing and distribution time. But what about magazines where time isn't a factor? As Alex Brown points out in her "Master Manufacturer" column (page 18), some magazines are meant to be in print, some are not.
Saving trees is a growing consumer priority and may be a significant contributor to wider-scale adoption of e-magazines.
But at this point, most benefits are to the publisher-saving on manufacturing and distribution costs, which publishers are striving desperately to tame. This is pushing publishers to push digital editions. Is that in the consumers' best interest?
Digital editions are being adopted in growing numbers (see "Digital Editions' Growth Spurt," page 33). For others, reading for pleasure on a computer screen at home isn't appealing. Sacks even acknowledges this.
But, he writes, "The future is here now," with the Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle and other e-readers. The price of e-readers will likely come down. And, as Sacks notes, "These devices will not go away, but rather will only get better and more advanced at what they do-distribute content."
Will screenagers be the tipping point? Maybe. They want the latest gadgets and are used to reading on screens. But they also are used to reading in bytes. So the question may not be whether they'll read a book or magazine in print or digital form, but whether they'll read them at all in their current format.
You should offer a digital edition if your readers want it. Should you offer only digital editions? Sacks writes, "By 2025, e-paper devices will be the predominant way in which people read. And they will most likely be reading some formulation of digital-edition technology." That's 17 years away, so you've got some time, even by BoSacks' standards.
E-paper-if developed to truly mimic real paper, and to be cost-effective and benefit-driven-seems a promising alternative to paper. But I can't help but be reminded of the fact that the first e-book was created more than 60 years ago, and people have predicted the death of print since at least the '60s. Marshall McLuhan, an English professor, media analyst and book author, predicted print's demise 46 years ago.
In 1999, Princeton University history professor Robert Darnton wrote in the New York Review of Books: "Marshall McLuhan's future has not happened. . . . The electronic age did not drive the printed word into extinction . . . . . . . We have heard that prophecy repeated ever since the first e-book, a clunking monstrosity known as Memex, was designed in 1945. By now, the conventional book has been pronounced dead so often that we shouldn't be surprised to find that it seems in excellent health."
The media world is changing-no denying that. Readers' habits are changing. Business models are changing, and online media empires are being built as we speak. But will print die? Not today.
BoSacks Replied thusly on the Web Site
That was a brilliant and wonderful treatment and overview of the "current" publishing situation. Key emphasis is on the word current. The technology and the sociology is changing faster than anyone can possible keep up with, and yet I try to do so. Our researchers at Media-Ideas.net continue to focus on emerging technologies, and they have forecast some interesting data and reading utilization curves. Predicting that an event will happen and concurrently predicting when it will happen are two different sets of prescience. 600 years ago Leonardo Da Vinci forecast and actually designed, the tank, the car, the automatic transmission, hydraulic pumps, reversible crank mechanisms, several flying machines, including a helicopter, a light hang glider, and the parachute. He wasn't wrong. But the "current technology wasn't up to the task and his vision.
Today, for publishers, the technology is not in some far off distant future, but present and on sale right now. Each month there are new and improved additions to the ereading marketplace.
At the next Publishers Executive meeting let us forget about inviting Samir Husni. I would be delighted to debate you in his place on this very subject. It would be fun and informative for everyone. You represent the hopes and the real fears of the editor in us all, while I represent . . . well something else.