Surviving the e-reader
As the e-reader revolution makes its way into the digital present, the existence of magazines as we know them becomes hazy. As we look toward the future, will the glossy, perfect-bound magazine still occupy an aisle at the grocery store and continue to grace doctors’ offices everywhere?
“So long as printosaurs are around, we’ll want magazines to thumb through in doctors’ and dentists’ offices,” said Carol Schwalbe in an e-mail interview. A self-proclaimed “printosaur,” the Arizona State University professor of magazine journalism said she is hopeful that magazines will always be around. “I like the tactile experience of holding a magazine and not having to look at it on a computer screen because I spend so much of my day tied to electronic devices.”
Over the past several months, a slew of e-readers and other print-based technologies have popped up. Most people know the Kindle, but recently, Barnes & Noble debuted the Nook, which unlike its rival, features a color multi-touch screen. According to Wired, Nook consumers can access an online bookstore featuring books, newspapers and magazines. Then there is magazine publisher Condé Nast, which announced recently that it was partnering up with Adobe Systems to launch a digital edition of Wired magazine for e-reading devices. According to the Wall Street Journal, it will be available by mid-2010, and the publisher will eventually create editions for all of its magazine titles including Vogue, Vanity Fair, and the New Yorker. Other e-readers already in the market or launching include the Plastic Logic Que, the Sony Reader and California-based Spring Design’s Alex, which reportedly features a dual screen.
According to an article at EContent, John Horrigan, associate director for research at the PEW Internet & American Life Project, said the potential market for e-readers is only about 8 percent, and those are people who are digitally inclined. “These are folks who are willing to put the Kindle in their bag along with the iPhone, or iPod and cell phone, and maybe another device. They are passionate enough about it to be willing to add another electronic device to their growing pile of devices,” he told EContent. An article in Editor & Publisher reported that Forrester Research estimated that at the end of 2008, Amazon and Sony together had only sold 1 million e-readers. Eventually, Horrigan said that the market will gravitate to an all-in-one digital device.
“Online publishing and digital magazines are certainly changing the landscape of our industry, but I don’t think they will destroy the traditional print product,” Jennifer Rowe, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, said in an e-mail interview. “Digital magazines provide a more similar reading experience for consumers as you can see layout and designs as you would with print. The e-readers don’t begin to replicate that experience with their limited formats.” Rowe also noted that while e-readers will most certainly find a place in the market, she believes that the magazines being e-read will be the ones lacking in design and presentation. While e-readers may not have the design components now, the WSJ reported Condé Nast executives believe that by the time the e-reader edition of Wired is ready, a new generation of hardware will be available providing readers with all that missing color and design.
Meanwhile, other magazine-based technologies have been popping up like Esquire’s experimental December issue featuring augmented reality. By downloading the application on the Esquire Web site and holding an issue Esquire in front of your video-cam, people featured in the magazine come to life on the screen. Also on the radar is Maggwire’s new launch, which is being marketed as the “iTunes of magazines.” It works by pulling in online articles from hundreds of magazines. Magazines enthusiasts can then go to the site and hand-pick articles by subject matter, paying for individual articles instead of buying entire issues. “Maggwire is trying to succeed where others have failed: getting people to pay for news content online. Yet, even in its beta form, Maggwire seems to be a quick and easy way to find some pretty interesting stories,” wrote Indianapolis Star reporter Daniel Lee in his blog, Insider Action.
Whatever the result of new technology and publishing gimmicks, Rowe said she believes that magazines will always exist in stores, newsstands and waiting rooms. “It’s difficult to replicate the convenience and ease of flipping through a magazine,” she said.
— Katrina M. Mendolera
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