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BoSacks Speaks Out: On Time Inc's Message of Sobriety

There is so much hype going on now about publishing and the iPad that I am just sick of it. The disease is self-inflicted hype-itis. It is apparently very catching, so be warned. The iPad will not all by itself save the publishing industry.

By Bob Sacks
Published: March 29, 2010

I have had this vent building up in me for quite some time, so I want to publicly thank Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time magazine, for a needed and sobering conversation.

"Mr. Stengel acknowledges that early iPad content may not meet the hype. He compared it to the era after sound first came into motion pictures. For a while many movies were more like filmed plays, until directors really learned to take advantage of the opportunities of the medium. For the iPad, too, 'the medium is waiting for its Orson Welles,' Stengel said."

There is so much hype going on now about publishing and the iPad that I am just sick of it. There is a new disease in town and as usual the media industry is pushing it like the death of Michael Jackson or the latest hurricane just over the horizon that will no doubt devastate half the east coast and all of us with it, so please stay tuned to this channel. The disease is self-inflicted hype-itis. It is apparently very catching, so be warned. The iPad will not all by itself save the publishing industry.

In a way the media industry is just like Wall Street , perhaps because the largest players in our industry are owned by Wall Street. Like us, they continually fall prey to their own hype. Wall street believed after a while that the sub-prime mortgages were a great way to make a quick buck. The obvious fact that it was a sucker's bet got lost in the greed of the moment, and they started to believe their own convoluted financial logic.

The print publishing world has been on the whole in the doldrums for several years. Single copy sales have been more or less flat on an industry-wide basis for decades. There are, of course, many exceptions to the drift, but a simple glimpse at a newsstand sales graph tells all.

There have been tons of money made and there will be tons of money made in the print world. Most of our money is still print related and will be so for quite some time. It is just the monetary trend that scares the heck out of anyone willing to look. There are still scores and scores of managers making six figure plus salaries trying to figure out how to sustain their personal gravy train.

So, now we have all the major players jumping into the iPad platform and the first advertising results look very impressive, and the proposed pricing for publishing and selling digital editions also looks encouraging. I have been forecasting such events for over a decade. Now that the correct platforms for our type of media are here there seems to be a digital frenzy of unrealistic proportions.

I still believe that the predominant way that people will read in the future will be digital, but I also believe that the transformation will not happen on April 3 when the manna-from-heaven-device is released. There may be some serious money made on that day by the industry leaders, but the 28,000 other printed titles will have to make the trip to the land of milk and honey by a less expeditious route.

I guess all I'm saying in this rant is that I'm as optimistic as ever about our future and that my honest appraisal is that we are near, but not yet there. The iPad is the first of many new devices and platforms. And remember that the iPad is not a true eReader -- it is a light emitting device and not a reflective substrate. The iPad will be hard to use in bright light conditions, where reflective devices will thrive.

We do absolutely need the iPad to get us where we are going. The Kindle was the model T Ford that we had to develop before we could have the iPad Ford Mustang. The iPad is obviously the necessary next device but not a full-fledged reading Ferrari. There are even better things just on the horizon

 

Discussion

By Clint Bolte on Mar 30, 2010

It's still a modest investment to learn the limitations and relative strengths and weaknesses from a user's perspective. This "buyer behavior" reality will not only lead to improvements from the publisher and reader re-engineering view but will offer quantifiable comparisons with other venues including conventional.

This is one way that niche markets are defined.

 

By Dave B on Mar 30, 2010

I completly understand the rant considering the hype that preceded it. But the history of the digital revolution has shown us that the early adaptors generally profit the most.

 

By Michael j on Mar 31, 2010

Bo,
I luv the rant. Thank you.

There has been so much bs thrown around for so long your post is a breath of fresh air. If anyone wants to convince themselves that print is so far from dead, take a look at the price of McClatchey and Gannet over the last 7 months.

Turns out the market never heard about the"End of Newspapers."

 

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