Category Archives: Magazines

Proprietary e-readers are doomed

time_tablet

Image: Engadget.com

Few tech gadgets these days inspire more wonder and press buzz than e-readers.  While Amazon didn’t pioneer the e-reader space, they did popularize it with their bookworm-friendly Kindle.  The Kindle, while rather feature-poor as a device, is great for pure book reading, and the passion shown by its users has apparently inspired many other companies to follow suit by developing their own e-readers.

Building an e-reader makes sense for a lot of companies, e.g. Amazon, HP, Dell or Amazon, companies that focus on hardware and developing platforms for which others can develop software or content.

However, we’re now seeing other companies jump into the game who have no business making their own e-readers, specifically content publishers.  Time recently gave a preview of their e-reader, showing off its capabilities with content from Sports Illustrated.  It looks pretty cool honestly, but what if I want to to read Road and Track on it?  No such luck.  It’s built for Time Inc. magazines – People, SI, Fortune, TIME, etc.

So no Road and Track, but what if I want to read PC World or Popular Science?  There’s an e-reader for that.  Bonnier, IDG, and MIT have teamed up with Plastic Logic to create an e-reader for their lineup of technology-oriented magazines.

So now, when I’m sitting on my throne and want something to read, I don’t flip through my magazine rack, I flip through my e-reader rack until I find the e-reader with the magazine I want to read.  Awesome.

This must stop. Now.  We, the users, are trying to simplify our lives with e-readers, not complicate them.  I should be able to have a single reader with all my magazines on it, not a half-dozen different e-readers with different interfaces and control schemes.  Any publisher making their own e-reader for their own content is doomed, and needs to be stopped before they hurt themselves.

What would happen if NBC, CBS, and ABC broadcast their shows so they could only be seen on proprietary devices?  “Let me turn on my other TV so I can watch NBC.”  Yeah, that’d fly.  These guys rely on the TV and HDTV standards that make their entire business models possible.

We have seen format battles in the past like VHS vs. Betamax or Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD, but ultimately those are open formats – available for all content producers to use.  This is analogous to the battle between the Kindle, the Sony e-reader, and the rumored Apple iTablet or whatever it ends up being called.  But for a content producer to make hardware that solely services their content is just insane.  Stop now, guys, and leave hardware to the professionals (as Condé Nast is doing) before you bankrupt yourselves trying to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Mr. Magazine: Cater to your customers

On the newstand

On the newstand

For subscribers

For subscribers

In a recent post on his blog Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni discusses the recent trend of magazines producing a single issue with two different covers, one cover for placement in newsstands, and a different cover for their subscribers.  It seems that for distribution on newsstands, the covers were more sensational and sexy, with  more lists (8 reasons your diet isn’t working) and more lascivious content (“The Sex of your Dreams (& Hers.)”)  Notable magazines using this technique are Men’s Health, US Weekly, and Bazaar.

What surprised me about the article was Husni’s dramatic objection to the practice:

I do not believe that the single copy cover should be any different than that of the subscriber, if we are in the business of customers who count and not just counting customers. Subscribers do visit the newsstands and what they see their should match what is on their coffee table.

Husni doesn’t seem to give any reasoning for his assertions; he just thinks this is the way it “should” be.  The way I see it, if you’re not just “counting customers” and you actually think your customers count, why not give them an experience they want?  If you know that most people in a certain segment have a certain preference and you have the ability to cater to that preference, why wouldn’t you?  Naturally, newsstand issues need to be more marketing oriented, so the headlines should be more attention-grabbing.  If someone wants to put a magazine on their coffee table, they many not want lewd headlines about sex tips all over it.  So why wouldn’t you give your readers what they want?

I applaud the magazine industry for this step in the right direction.  Websites have been delivering customized experiences for years, so it’s about time that magazines took a page from our…book?