Cover Story : The 2009 Publishing Innovator of the Year: Esquire
With innovations such as its recent e-ink cover, the magazine has bucked the trend of decline.April 2009 By Noelle Skodzinski
David Granger is impatient. But you would never know it by looking at him. Standing in front of the plate glass windows in his office, suited to perfection in black Armani, the editor-in-chief of the famed Esquire magazine is the very picture of calm, unassuming confidence and contentedness. But make no mistake, the impatience is there, just below the surface. Evidence of it can be seen in Esquire’s pages, especially on its covers. As Granger puts it, it is a “general impatience with the way things are,” and it drives him to strive for things that have never been done before.
In fall 2008, Esquire made headlines worldwide when its 75th anniversary issue hit newsstands. The magazine’s cover didn’t feature Esquire’s usual striking, confident or enigmatic man. Instead, it featured a simple headline, “The 21st Century Begins Now.” But it was flashing: “The 21st Century” appearing first, “Begins” next, and the poignant “Now” the last word to appear.
The cover, as well as the Ford Flex advertisement that appeared inside the front cover, used electronic ink, or e-ink, a technology brought to the masses by the Sony Reader, the Amazon Kindle and other electronic readers. While the two-years-in-the-making e-ink endeavor was a “bold adventure” and a “massive pain in the ass that taxed the capacities of almost everyone at the magazine and the printing plants,” to quote Granger, and certainly met its naysayers who criticized the cover’s lack of extravagance, or “underutilized circuitry,” it was also the epitome of Granger’s impatience and desire to push print to the farthest reaches possible.
It was a definite first in the magazine industry. It was innovation that required painstaking risks, and it was what inspired Publishing Executive to name Esquire the 2009 Publishing Innovator of the Year, honoring the magazine at an awards dinner on Monday, March 23, during the Publishing Business Conference & Expo.
The E-volution of an Idea
About three years ago, Granger presented his staff with a challenge: “To change the way they think,” says Granger, to find “new ways to do print.”
One year later, Granger and his staff decided that Esquire’s 75th anniversary issue should not do what most magazines do to recognize their anniversaries, again a reflection of Granger’s impatience with the status quo. It should not look back, but instead, it should look forward at the emergence of the 21st century. Deputy Editor Peter Griffin recalled a company called E Ink Corp.—a supplier of electronic-paper display technologies, which the staff had encountered some eight years ago while planning Esquire’s “Genius” issue. “Peter said, ‘Remember E Ink? We should use it; it’s 21st-century technology,’” explains Granger.