Reading the E-Leaves: The future of magazines on digital devices is beginning to take shape.
Tempering these rosy numbers is the possibility that publishers will find themselves unready for the next iteration of digital hardware, once again playing catch-up in the face of a new wave of devices.
Cheryl Goodman, director of publisher relations for the Mirasol Display Project at Qualcomm, says publishers must have a device strategy as well as a content strategy. This involves understanding where technology is going and how it will impact consumer engagement—in regards to, for instance, file sizes and the costs involved in sending data, battery life and screen size. If (as Qualcomm believes) the future of digital content delivery will be on four-plus-inch screen "superphone" devices that combine the best of what smartphones and tablets offer, then publishers should consider what that might mean for behavior—a "lean back" experience coupled with mobile connectivity.
"Get really savvy about not just the software side, but who the winners are going to be on the hardware side," she says. "What are consumers saying about what they are willing to do in a digital reading experience? What will reading in that experience look like?"
Technological enhancements, such as larger processor capacity and energy-saving, non-reflective displays, will allow for increasingly sophisticated mobile environments able to harness the best of what wide-open connectivity enables—including social media and transaction tools—within a branded environment.
"The question is how do publishers live up to this golden opportunity," Goodman poses. "For the first time, you have the ability for someone to read your content and directly access the ad there [and] make a transaction on the same device from within a fully immersive experience." This type of interface, she agrees, is what could finally allow the long-standing revenue disparity between digital and print advertising to shrink.
Embracing the Future
Anderson himself certainly seems ready to embrace what Flipboard-style social media functionality can bring to apps. "We do not [yet] have the social media layer that I want," he says, noting his dislike of website comments, where the most useful contributions are often buried under irrelevancy or "snark," and praising a feature on the Kindle app that allows readers, with the touch of a finger on an underlined line of text, to become aware of how others are reacting to the phrase they are reading.