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Michael Gracie

A new game for publishers, portability plus price

“Ezines”, those nifty flip-the-page websites, are sprouting up like weeds, particularly in the fly-fishing world. Some are vying for easy distribution, while others hang on the green bandwagon while manipulating InDesign files from treehouses. Regardless of intent, various pundits have called it the death of print, while publishers declare the insanity of such thoughts. Further, if you keep a close eye on new media chatter, you might also find that some traditional publishers have simply regurgitated their print editions in mobile applications. Such investments far exceed that of ezines, hence the problems publishers may be having finding a price that both suits consumers and provides for a recovery of their investment. Whether it be Flash-based open source scripts or flashy looking tablets, however, it’s the general availability of new technology that is the genesis of the efforts.

You could argue the relative merits of these channels until the cows come home, and frankly I enjoy observing all the banter for and against. Nevertheless, I think it comes down to just two factors, portability and price. The first is all about convenience – whether you can consume it anywhere you want, whenever you want. Then there’s how much you want to pay for it. The problem for publishers is individual preference, and adapting to changes in those preferences.

For example, I’ve always been a disposable content fan. I bought and read a lot of magazines, but did so mostly when I was doing a lot of business travel. Periodicals alleviated in-transit boredom, and the investment was always small enough that I didn’t mind tossing them in the trash before heading home. Same goes for books – unless they were reference materials I bought paperbacks whenever possible. When rich websites arrived, I found myself consuming more timely content via that channel – pulp took a back seat.

Fast forward a few years, I now have an e-reader and a tablet, and if the website isn’t compatible with one of those it just doesn’t get visited that much anymore. Full of Flash? How about a PDF, which I can read on anything I like. And I’d be happy to pay for it too, but please don’t try charging me twice the newsstand rate. One ezine I’ve found, Rise Forms, does a very good job with portability, and their price is spectacular (i.e. free). Further, while I still purchase several traditional publications I’m less compelled to subscribe because I’ve made the investment in the electronic tools. I hope the publishers get with the program, but I’ve got enough options in front of me that I don’t feel like I’m missing (as) much if they don’t.

I’m not sure what mix of print, HTML, .mobi, or even Objective-C is optimal, and I doubt most publisher do either. Utilizing multiple formats is an experiment, and one I believe still has a long way to go before salient business models (or derivatives of existing ones) rise to the surface. I am, however, fairly certain that if you’re not at least dipping your toes in these waters, you’re missing out on some fun.

Am I alone in this thinking? Or is a scuba gear purchase in order?

MG signing off (to find some more easy to port, fairly-priced content to consume)

Comments

Marshall Cutchin says:

It’s hard to say who the “winners” are in a world where access is dependent on $125 monthly subscriptions, $300 device purchases and delivery that is far from perfect. (Unless of course you count Apple, who has taken the print publisher’s net cost for printing and distribution and shifted it via electronic payment to their bank accounts.) Tablets still account for only about 5% of the mobile media market (even Netbooks still have higher audience reach), but their users tend to watch more video and pay more attention to ads than do smartphone users. Still, most “news” is still consumed at work, and most people look at news on company computers — it’s free and delivery is almost guaranteed. While PC sales may be losing ground to mobile devices, mobile devices are still also used mostly for news consumption (http://paidcontent.org/article/419-nielsen-tablets-are-money-spinners-but-less-than-5-use-them-today/). TV on tablets may be the fastest-growing consumption trend. Meanwhile magazines are pulling back from a wholesale shift to tablets, and thinking of them as an opportunity to charge far more for bundled device/print subs. We’re learning all over again that “new” is not always “better,” if you believe consumer metrics rather than Apple marketing.

Yep…

Meanwhile magazines are pulling back from a wholesale shift to tablets, and thinking of them as an opportunity to charge far more for bundled device/print subs.

And if they’d seen the forest through the trees and simply added additional access points versus trying to charge extra for it, their subscriber base might not be continuing to dwindle…don’t you think?

It may be a question of reach — which magazines seem to have given up on — vs. margins. In the old days, magazines chased higher rate bases by giving away subs, but the reach offered by electronic media means they can’t play that game anymore — at least not profitably.

Gracie,

I think things are in enough flux at the moment, with the varying array of e-formats, that publishers should keep their options fairly open. From my experience (I’m using InDesign), once you have the InDesign document, it’s not that hard to then publish it in html (html5?–don’t know, haven’t tried yet), e-pub, mobi, pdf, etc. I really don’t see why a publisher wouldn’t want to keep their readership happy. I’m sure there are some back door deals between publishers, hardware manufacturers and software entities, that one group feels beholden to another, so it ends up being a choice that’s money-based (big surprise there, eh?) and they end up only publishing on one platform.

But hey, what do I know?

-sc

I guess you knew enough to provide multiple channels for your publication right off the bat.

Which I almost forgot to thank you for, so thanks!

Tosh says:

Bring back the IBM Selectric! I’ve still got two ribbons (new in box) that I need to use up.

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