The iPad & the Birth of Digital Publishing
First, a personal note about the iPad. For me, as I explained in my post about why I don't want an iPad, the new, thinner, lighter iPad mini is probably the only iPad I am interested in buying. This is because it is lighter, thinner, and, as Apple is quick to point out, easier to hold in one hand and easier to hold up without getting your arm tired. However, as a person who is in front of my computer at any time when at home and is happy with my iPhone as a traveling companion, I still cannot find a reason I need to buy an iPad. Between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro, there's nothing I really want to do that makes me think, "I need an iPad." The only reason I might want an iPad is for digital magazines, and that is my main topic for today.
The publishing industry is scared. They know that someday, no one will buy their newspapers and paper-based magazines. The world of paper books will probably live on longer in a niche market, much like music on vinyl still exists. In fact, many are not buying these paper magazine/newspaper versions anymore and instead just visiting the publication's website for their content. But I don't think the end of paper is coming nearly as quickly as these companies are thinking. No, this prediction has nothing to do with the apocalypse like the TV show "Revolution" or the movie "The Book of Eli". But I firmly believe there are some conveniences of paper publications that are still not solved digitally. Until these hurdles are overcome, paper will still be more universal and preferred.
The biggest problems is that publishers need to make reading ubiquitous. Amazon.com has done the best of this so far. I can read my Kindle books on my computer, on my iPhone, and on my Kindle itself. There's maybe a limit of devices i can load some content on, but I've never run into it. It just works, and it works everywhere. But magazine/newspaper publishers have a long way to go in this area. One of my favorite magazines was Paste Magazine, which had to stop printing a year or two ago. Shortly after that, they announced a weekly e-magazine available on their website for a couple bucks a month, and I've purchased it. But honestly, I haven't really read it much I'm just not sitting at my computer at home thinking, "I want to read about music and movies right now." I mostly read Paste in print while on long car trips or airplane flights, among other places, and I really cannot do that with the Paste mPlayer product right now. Heck, their product (last I checked) doesn't really work on my iPhone for reading either. However, they have announced they plan to have an iPhone and iPad app sometime in the future, which promises more great reading time.
Another favorite small magazine publisher of mine is Relevant Magazine. They are still committed to printing a magazine, which I love. I still subscribe and do read them. But now they also allow me to read them on their website if I log into my account, and I appreciate that. Their new website is very well-designed as well--it's amazing how it feels like a magazine, almost, with colorful graphics, enlarged blurbs from the article, and multimedia in the margins. It's one of the best publishing websites I've seen so far (much like The Verge, which I will accuse them of plagiarizing a bit). Relevant does offer a beautiful iPad app, I'm told, but since I don't have an iPad, I may never experience it. Still, though, I should be able to read Relevant everywhere. I'd read it more if they had an iPhone app in addition to the iPhone app. I'd read the articles on my Kindle if it didn't cost more and was an available option. Yes, I know, in these formats I would not get as much of the fancy graphics, the meticulous layouts, and the experience of reading a glossy, full-color magazine printing, but is that so terrible? In the end, I want to read the content, and for the most part, it is about the content, not the presentation. Don't get me wrong: the presentation is great, where available. But I would rather be able to read the words anywhere and be aware that I am missing a bit of the experience instead of not reading at all.
Another problem with digital distribution is the reader's lack of rights. If I get a paper version, I can meticulously save them on my shelf for reading whenever I want. I can easily borrow them to a friend. I can even give them to my kids, if they do not fall apart by then. I own these books. These days, when you purchase digital books, you do not own them. You are given a license to read them that can easily revoked by the seller or the publisher. You get much less rights than with a paper book or magazine. A couple weeks ago, a woman's account from Amazon was deleted and she was not told why. Most likely, she violated some parts of the terms of service, but still, she may have spent hundreds of dollars on electronic goods that she no longer had access to and very little recourse to getting her books back. The printed word does not come with a 20-page legal agreement attached--it just comes with a copyright and that's about it.
Digital distributors like Amazon have done a lot to mitigate these problems. I can read my books on numerous devices, and Amazon keeps track of where I am at on one device and lets me pick up from that spot on another device. They even have a mechanism for me to lend a book to a friend's Kindle account for a preset amount of time. You can also borrow books from the worldwide Kindle pool at your local library for a specified amount of time. But, again, all of these are subject to the agreements of Amazon.com and the publishers, so you may find some of this not working from time to time. That said, I love my Kindle. There's no other easy way to carry around dozens of books in one small, lightweight package that can easily be tossed into my backpack.
Within the last month the publication Newsweek announced they would stop printing a magazine at the end of this year. Many smaller publishers have started distributing digitally first and then printing a book copy months later for the die-hard fans. I think these are signs of the times, and digital distribution is so much cheaper. But at this point, paper is still just as convenient and comes with more rights. Will Newsweek lose readers when they stop printing? For sure. Will they have a viable business in the e-publishing world? Only time will tell. But I think that digital publishers need to make their content much more available everywhere digital goods are sold in order to gain the widest audience, not just on the iPad or Kindle store. In the end, the product available everywhere will make the most money. It is a problem of building the infrastructure and standards to enable that availability.