BoSacks: Jousting at Paper Windmills
A debate has resurfaced in the publishing blogosphere in the last few months,
By Bob Sacks
Published: August 24, 2010
A debate has resurfaced in the publishing blogosphere in the last few months, a conversation that I believe is very important. At the same time, it is a situation that will take care of itself as the totally obvious becomes clearly evident to everyone left standing.
The antagonist that brought about the necessity for this debate is the advent of the now very popular iPad, and with it the new magazine applications that are increasingly available and seemingly very successful. There are many title-specific apps such as Popular Science, Wired, Sports Illustrated and, of course, the resourceful Zinio bullpen of thousands of iPad-ready titles.
But the new wrinkle is that some pundits have now suggested that these successful apps are not actually magazines at all. Dr. Samir Husni declared in his blog a few weeks ago that if it's not printed on paper, it's not a magazine.
I have countered such logic with a precise definition of a magazine, broadcast on the web, at WhatTheyThink and in Publishing Executive Magazine some four or five years ago and actually anticipating this very debate. Simply stated and without the full details, my friends and fellow analysts at mediaIDEAS suggest that a magazine must have the following criteria: It must be paginated, edited, designed, periodic, permanent and date stamped.
It is my opinion that these simple rules allow for us as an industry to move easily from where we were to where we absolutely must go. My definition prepares us for the eventual day when a publisher's digital revenue surpasses the printed revenue stream without in any way damaging either our integrity or honorable legacy. We can have everything that we were, and still look proudly and boldly into a new and profitable future.
I feel that maintaining the requirement, as some have suggested, that "it ain't a magazine if it ain't on paper" will only doom us to be an afterthought in the assuredly strong digital future now way beyond our doorstep.
The iPad is here to stay, and by the time you read this, it will probably have sold around 3 million units. But wait, there is more. Other manufacturers with even newer technologies are nearby and on the prowl.
The iPad is an LCD device that emits light, just like your desktop or laptop computer. I have one, and I agree with most pundits that it is really a terrific platform, performing tricks that prove that, in some cases, size does matter. It is easy to read in most, but definitely not all, lighting conditions.
I promise you that the next logical and very important step will be full-color, e-paper devices that work on reflective transmission like real paper, and therefore, will be easily readable in all lighting conditions. I have already seen these new devices. I have held them in my hands and used them. These new displays are truly a sight to behold. They will work and be readable in any lighting condition from the beach to the bedroom. Well, now that you mention it, just like a real magazine-only better.
This is not science fiction. This is not some lab experiment that may come to us in some far, distant future. This is here, now, and ready for your magazine. Yes, I said magazine. If we as an industry get stuck in some romantic and antique affection of what was, we will be looking sadly from the sidelines at what could have been.
Holding the aforesaid dialog in mind, here are several predictions:
- ● This year we will publish more printed magazine titles than we produced last year.
- ● Next year we will probably publish and produce more printed magazine titles than this year.
- ● The unfortunate corollary to this prediction is that in each year, we have been and will continue to produce fewer and fewer printed pages. Actually that is not so much a prediction, but a verifiable trend. If you look at the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB) data, you will see that printed ad pages are continuing to take a downward turn.
The industry we knew and loved will not turn around, nor rejuvenate. It has fundamentally and irreversibly changed. Our hope and the salvation of our revenue stream is in creatively adapting and joining the future of information distribution, instead of, at best, jousting at paper windmills. The new magazine business will do just fine with or without the romantic semantics of what constitutes a magazine.