An Open Letter to Magazine Publishers

I’ve just viewed one of the more frustrating and disappointing videos that I’ve seen in awhile.

You know all those magazine ads lately about the importance of magazines and “the Power of Print?”  The ones with all the different fonts and you get to try to guess which letter came from which magazine?

the power of print magazines iPad e-magazine ebook ebook publishers

I just watched the video companion to this campaign, with several major publishers – the brightest minds in the publishing business – arguing about the importance of print magazines, and how the history of technology has shown that print magazines will not be displaced.

Perhaps they are too busy trying to come up with lame and misguided arguments that they don’t realize print magazines have already been displaced!

It is called an e-magazine.  Or perhaps an iPad magazine.  And if you’ve seen one, you will likely agree that it is the most amazing thing to come to magazines since the invention of “glossy.”  If you haven’t, then download a free app and sample edition of your favorite magazine:  Wired, Martha Stewart, Spin, or even Scott Kelby’s Light It.

E-magazines on the iPad are going to be huge.  HUGE.  They are going to sell 10 times better than print magazines and make some people a lot of money, yet the most prominent publishers of magazines are busy arguing how print is important and lasting.

Everyone loves the warm, full sound of The Beatles on vinyl.  It is widely agreed that vinyl sounds way better than mp3’s.  Yet how many songs on vinyl did you listen to while working out at this gym today?

While the music honchos were busy making the anti-mp3 argument, people started digesting music in unprecedented quantities, but the music industry kept fighting the wrong fight.  Then Steve Jobs came along and provided a commercially viable way to feed all those hungry ears, and now Apple is the largest music retailer in the world, selling another 283 songs every nano-second (or something like that).

The EXACT SAME THING is now happening with both e-books and now e-magazines, yet those in charge are busy focusing on the wrong fights.  Publishers aren’t printers.  Printers are printers.  The printing industry should be making full page ads, websites, and videos trying to protect their buggy whips industry.  The publishing industry should have realized months, years, decades ago that they are in the information and content delivery business.  We don’t care how we digest our content.  Just make it easy and we will digest even more!  AND we’ll pay for it!

Everyone loves the feel of books.  Browsing down an aisle.  No one needs to keep making that argument.  (Seriously, you can stop now.  We understand you love smelling your books.)  But reading a book isn’t about holding (or smelling) a book, its about reading a story.  A story that takes your beyond your physical book, not to mention beyond your couch at the same time.  Ask a Kindle owner, they will tell you they’ve read more stories since they’ve started using their Kindle, just like everyone rediscovered their music collection after they got their iPod and are listening to more music than ever before.  Browsing down an aisle or through a magazine rack is about discovery and serendipity, and Amazon has some pretty great algorithms that makes this process much more efficient, helping us find the perfect book we may have never found on our own, and helping us know instantly through countless reviews if it is worth reading.  And the iPad makes browsing quicker, easier, and more colorful than ever before.  Yes, just like the warm sound of a vinyl LP, the book aisle will inevitably be lost.  (Don’t worry, after all the bookstores are gone, you will still be able to browse down the aisles of the library for another 12 years until they finally realize no one is coming in the door and its time to give up the “feel of books” argument.)  But you may find that what we are left with is both more convenient and more effective at providing you with what you are actually seeking – good content, good stories that strongly appeal to you.  If you want to “browse,” to occupy your time, eyes, and mind, perhaps try a gallery or art museum instead.

Can you think of a better way to pass spare moments than a magazine?  We already do it at the doctor’s office, the airport, the DMV.  But what if you are in a place without magazines and/ or forgot to bring yours along, or already finished the one you are carrying?  Do you see how easy it will be when EVERYONE has their iPad or Kindle Fire (immediately after Holidays 2011 when everyone gets one or the other), pulls it out, and skims through the latest editions of their favorite magazine.  We can all can carry 26 issues of 6 different magazines with us everywhere we go so that we can catch up on them.  Have you seen the iCloud?  It will automatically push you the latest issue – no effort!

Magazine vendors at airports realize something:  put the magazines where the bored readers are.  Now we have our magazine stand with us everywhere we go, and can buy a magazine at the slightest whim.  Why is it so hard for the publisher of Time to figure out?  And the publishers of Esquire, Rolling Stone, People, Car and Driver, Glamour, Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker…?  Aren’t these people more insightful than that?  Shouldn’t it be the airport magazine kiosk owners running ad campaigns and making videos imploring us to keep buying print magazines?

Publishers, do you see that this all means $$$?  $$$ for you unless you keep wasting your time making videos about “the Power of Print” while the bright minds at Apple figure out how to make all the e-magazine revenue for themselves through iBooks and iTunes.

It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the top publishers’ near-sightedness only hurt themselves.  We all love schadenfreude.  But rather than taking the opportunity dropped in their lap by the iPad, and focusing on the path to iPad e-publishing prosperity, their misguided fight may end up hurting many, many others – damaging the careers of reporters, writers, editors, and countless staff.  And yes, photographers too.  The iPad is the savior of publishing, and they are busy arguing that those noisy, smelly Model T’s the Internet isn’t going to kill their reliable and useful buggy whips colorful stacks of paper held together with a staple.

Almost 12 years ago I wrote a similar letter about how retailers were building a wall of sand in a vain attempt to hold back the rush of progress, change, disruption, and opportunity brought on by the Internet.  It is disappointing that so many years and lessons later, some are still trying to build these walls of sand.


One thought on “An Open Letter to Magazine Publishers”

  1. Great letter!
    But you are falling into the trap of monopolization ,,,,, I will not be forced to buy from one source !!
    Apple is my product of choice, but if and when they try to monopolize ?
    I won’t buy from them !

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