Will Print Die? Not Today.
In his column on page 42, columnist Bob Sacks writes: “The only thing holding [digital magazine editions] back presently is a perfect substrate.” That’s sort of like saying, “The only thing holding me back from a fabulous singing career is my voice.”
The key to any new medium seems to be the benefit to the user. When cassette tapes came out, I never wondered whether they would replace vinyl. Cassettes wouldn’t scratch, they took up less space, and you could play them in the car.
When CDs came out, did anyone wonder whether they would replace cassettes? CDs didn’t get “eaten” or melt in the sun, and you didn’t have to fast forward to find the beginning of the next song.
Then came the iPod—it’s teensy-tiny, it won’t scratch or melt, it’s easy and inexpensive to download music, and it can do many things a CD, cassette or record can’t. With each new medium, the benefits to the music fan increased dramatically.
But e-books’ and digital editions’ future is under debate. Will they be the future? Bob Sacks says yes. Many disagree.
E-editions and e-books do save on space. But are books or magazines really that cumbersome compared to laptops or even e-readers? How often do most people carry them around anyway, and particularly several at once? Students, along with frequent travelers (who Sony initially targeted with its Reader), may be the exception. Are print pages difficult or time-
consuming to flip? Print publications are already quite cheap and convenient (delivered to your door).
But there are benefits: archives and searches available with many digital editions; rich media enhancements and live links; timeliness—you can eliminate printing and distribution time. But what about magazines where time isn’t a factor? As Alex Brown points out in her “Master Manufacturer” column (page 18), some magazines are meant to be in print, some are not.
Saving trees is a growing consumer priority and may be a significant contributor to wider-scale adoption of e-magazines.
But at this point, most benefits are to the publisher—saving on manufacturing and distribution costs, which publishers are striving desperately to tame. This is pushing publishers to push digital editions. Is that in the consumers’ best interest?
Digital editions are being adopted in growing numbers (see “Digital Editions’ Growth Spurt,” page 33). For others, reading for pleasure on a computer screen at home isn’t appealing. Sacks even acknowledges this.
But, he writes, “The future is here now,” with the Sony Reader, Amazon Kindle and other e-readers. The price of e-readers will likely come down. And, as Sacks notes, “These devices will not go away, but rather will only get better and more advanced at what they do—distribute content.”
Will screenagers be the tipping point? Maybe. They want the latest gadgets and are used to reading on screens. But they also are used to reading in bytes. So the question may not be whether they’ll read a book or magazine in print or digital form, but whether they’ll read them at all in their current format.