Thursday, December 13, 2007
BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Roy Reiman, Time's Maghound, Bad Math and Prints Future.
Re: The Future of Print Publishing and Paid Content
Scott Karp's thoughtful piece on the future of publishing had a fairly straightforward central premise: since readers know that online content doesn't cost the publisher anything to distribute, they won't pay as much for online content as they will for content in print. Karp said that consumers "intuitively understand that it doesn't cost the publisher nearly as much to make the content available digitally as it did to put all of those books physically on a shelf."
Are manufacturing and distribution costs what make print different from online? I'd suggest that the answer is a resounding no. I think many customers pay a premium for content in print because print has intrinsic qualities that make it more valuable.
Let's look at another guide to the relative value of print and online-the advertising revenue stream.
There's a serious difference between the CPMs of print and online advertising. An ad that runs in a magazine or newspaper commands a much higher price per exposure than an ad on the magazine or newspaper's Web site . . . even if the ad appears in the same content in each medium.
The cost difference is a pretty clear indication that print has higher value for an advertiser. It's hard to imagine that advertisers would pay a premium for print if they didn't recognize additional value, or that publishers wouldn't charge more for online advertising if they could.
We could debate the relative merits of the two media for years. In fact, we have. But why print CPMs are higher than online CPMs isn't as important as the fact that they simply are.
Karp's piece ended just when he got to the good stuff. He mentioned that the "citizen-journalists" who contribute to BostonNow prefer to be published in print rather than online-another way of saying that print offers higher value . . . which is why writers prefer to see their work in print and why marketers are willing to pay more for print advertising.
As practitioners of the publisher's craft, we owe it to ourselves to promote the advantages of print. It's certainly in our financial interest to do so, and the intrinsic merits of different media aren't insignificant. Writers recognize the difference. Advertisers pay for the difference. Of course publishers need to embrace the Web, and of course exciting opportunities await online . . . but it's worth remembering that from the customer's perspective, the value of print (like the value of any medium) is completely unrelated to a publisher's costs.
(Submitted by a Publisher)
RE: BoSacks Speaks Out: Bad Math Among eBook Enthusiasts
Tim O'Reilly is a very smart publisher. I'll add a different angle. Let's assume that he's wrong and that prices do fall to, and remain at, $5 a title. What publisher and author combination can make money that way? Reading hasn't reduced in volume because the prices are too high - books just aren't that expensive. If you have a current business model under which most titles don't even make back the pitiful advances that authors get, and where the cost of the actual paper is only about $1.50 a copy, then dropping the price by 60 to 80 percent is going to mean that publishers won't be able to afford to print anything that isn't going to be wildly successful. Current backlists may stay around (if the publishers have acquired the necessary rights), but forget the variety of titles coming out now. You'll be down to a handful of authors who can generate the necessary sales. Then
supply and demand will kick back in, because there are those massive infrastructures to feed, and prices will head back up anyway. Some individual authors might be able to self publish, but if they're getting 35 percent of $5, that's $1.75. Take out costs of design and production, and maybe they're at $1 a book if they're lucky, which is the inadequate stream of money they made from publishers - too low to support self-publishing. So $5 a copy, if really gutting the paper model, would really leave book publishing virtually dead.
(Submitted by a Writer)
RE: Can Time Inc.'s Maghound Concept Work?
This seems like an awful lot of work, with a whole bunch of folks needing to pay attention to the details, for not much convenience. If I want a magazine, I will subscribe, often for years at a time (to keep those annoying renewal notices at bay.) Who really thinks there are consumers with the time, interest, and inclination to work through a market basket of different magazines on a try-it-I-might-like-it basis? This has a funny odor to it, smelling something like the old Publisher's Clearing House stamp programs, and we all remember how that ended up. Sorry, I just don't get it. Seems very last century in the internet world!
(Submitted by a Director of Mfg and Dst)
RE: Can Time Inc.'s Maghound Concept Work?
This is overblown.. . . They've been fooling with this for years, even printed and mailed a catalog in 2004. It's just Time Inc's new age version of PDS, and is not likely to be a big hit. There's trouble in Stanford, don't you know . . .
(Submitted by a CEO of a Distributer)
RE: Roy Reiman Speaks Out; Setting the Record Straight:
Hats off to Mr. Reiman for clarifying this muddled issue. Roy Reiman is so correct regarding the significant differences between a national magazine business model and a regional magazine, particularly with regard to circulation levels. Years ago the brilliant and venerable Bill Ziff, owner of Ziff-Davis, stated a very similar thesis in a Folio article that encapsulated most, if not all, of the great truths about running a profitable magazine business, i.e., serving the reader first and foremost is the key to profitability.
What I find particularly troubling is the obvious question that RDA avoids mentioning, i.e., If Reiman Publishing didn't make money (and make money hand-over-fist) why did RDA bother to buy it? If the Reiman business model didn't work at the time of purchase, the senior management at RDA and all of its many consultants would never have pursued the purchase particularly given RDA's own profit problems at the time. I would love to see what happens to the renowned Reiman renewal rates over the next three years and the consequent cost of replacing lost renewals due to the dissatisfaction of subscribers who were sold on the premise of no advertising and are now experiencing a magazine that is just another advertising vehicle.
(Submitted by a VP Circulation Marketing)
Re: How an electronic newspaper could become profitable
Bill Richards may know the newspaper business from a reporter's perspective, but he doesn't understand the business side. Eliminating paper by going electronic does not eliminate the need for circulation. The paper still has to be promoted and fulfilled -- and audited. Emarketing is a lot cheaper than traditional marketing, but it still has to be done.
(Submitted by an Unknown)
RE: Roy Reiman Speaks Out; Setting the Record Straight:
What a refreshing new take, people in the know directly responding in an open forum.
Bob, I believe this is what you have strived for all these years, an open honest discussion among the leader's of the publishing industry.
Now that the record is set straight with RDA and Mr. Reiman, here's what I want to know:
How much more downsizing, outsourcing and consolidation will happen in '08?
How are today's publishers going to make a profit in '08 and beyond?
What is being done to counteract the rising costs of paper, postage and manufacturing costs?
What efforts are underway to increase advertising spend in print? In digital?
Is a no-advertising model like Mr. Reiman suggests in the works?
Who today has a national title that could support itself without advertising revenue given the rising costs of paper and postage?
There seems to be a big surge in outsourcing of non-core business functions (latest is production management and print buying). What are the printers doing to bring value added to the publishers without giving away the profit margins? What are the publishers doing to help their printers and paper suppliers stay in business?
(Submitted by a Director of MFG)
Re: BoSacks Speaks Out: Mea Culpa on RDA, Reiman and Ripplewood.
Bob: I thought I had seen the article before too, but figured maybe it was a slow news week. It is good to read the viewpoints of each of you in the same posting, as now. As an observer, and a subscriber to these magazines, I don't believe my core thoughts on Ripplewood's approach has changed much, but today's post certainly adds perspective.
That you are at the 'epicenter' of a huge volume of communications regarding this business and yet retain your sanity, perspective, and optimism, is a major accomplishment, beyond the ken of most.
(Submitted by a Publisher)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
BoSacks Speaks Out: Print Will Remain Vital
I've had four or five print salesman write to me yesterday and complain about my recent rant of a digital vs. a print geocentric future. Here is the full dope on he subject.
I have never said that print is dying or even withering on the vine. Nope, I never said it. I think print will have a fine half-life as we proceed into the new world order. Print will happily be around for several generations. And for the printers reading this, they can/will or might have a very successful career. I can say this as I am a print manufacturing specialist of 37 years, I understand the print process better than most, and I am a believer in the mystique of ink on paper.
But that affection does not blind me to the near and future prospects of new information distribution. My friends, it is possible for you to believe in the happy prospects of a viable print career and at the same time understand that digital is going to supplant print as the number one source of reading.
It is going to happen, in fact, it is already happening. So what? There are plenty of millionaires in the radio business 50 years after the advent of television. There is room in this world for parallel systems of communication. Print, TV, Radio, and the digital World Wide Web can coexist without all the damn rancor. Don't be so paranoid and defensive; it serves no logical purpose except to deny the societal trends before your eyes. Pick your career and ride it for all it's worth, but don't complain to me for covering the facts and possible future of our industry.
The Internet is here to stay and so is the digital process. It is not going to get weaker, but rather stronger and much more impressive and robust. It will imbed itself into everyone's life in ways we can't even imagine.
And, oh yes, every one of the complaints of my coverage that I received today came to me over a blackberry digital device. I say that is case closed.
"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
William Arthur Ward (American dedicated scholar, author, editor, pastor and teacher)
Print Circ. May Decline, But Will Remain Vital
Tim Bowdler, Johnston Press CEO: print circ. may decline, but will remain vital
Tim Bowdler, one of UK's most respected press chief executives, CEO of Johnston Press, agreed to release an exclusive statement for the Weblog about his outlook on the future of the industry. In the following, he both acknowledges the realities of decreasing sales and debunks excessively gloomy forecasts.
"You could be forgiven for being very gloomy about the prospects for the newspaper industry at the present time. Indeed, if you listened to the financial community you would receive a very grim analysis with cyclical declines driven by weakness in the economy exacerbated by the structural challenges which our industry faces. They would emphasise declining circulations and the failure of several recent attempts to sell regional newspaper titles. Share prices have been badly affected; Johnston is at half the level it was at the beginning of the year. One analyst, who chose to remain anonymous, described the industry as being in its "death spiral".
I am in no doubt that the gloom expressed by the financial community and others is greatly overdone, much of it based on a poor understanding of our industry.Underlying cyclical trends are obviously something we have to contend with and in some areas of our business we have recently seen weakness in advertising revenues as a result. Whilst there are also structural challenges, migration to websites has not had a significant impact. This has been much more as a result of events like motor dealer consolidation and the sea change in public sector spending levels which has resulted in a dramatic reduction of job recruitment in that area of the economy.
Whilst circulations are in decline, this has been largely confined to daily newspapers and most obviously those serving the larger metropolitan areas. Weekly paid-for newspapers which make up a significant part of the UK regional press have suffered relatively little over the past decade and publishers are not sitting inactive watching sales drift away, but are instead launching new titles, targeting geographic and demographic niches and in that way continuing to ensure high levels of market penetration and advertising response. Taking a longer term view, I suspect we will sell fewer newspapers, but, when coupled with these new print launches, we will continue to achieve high levels of market reach which will be further extended by our rapidly growing digital channels. The regional press in the UK has also been investing in modern printing plant and new IT systems which will help to drive ever-increasing levels of operating efficiency, improved quality and enhanced customer service. And, of course, the industry is investing heavily in digital channels which have become an embedded part of the local publishing mix and an extension to our print based activities.
I have no doubt that the regional press will play an important role in the media industry for many, many years to come and that print will remain a vital part of the local media mix. As I have said, the print mix will continue to adapt, reflecting changes in market conditions and our new digital channels will expand our penetration into local communities whereby we will reach greater numbers of people than the being newspaper publishers to community media companies which will continue to exploit the huge investment we have in resources on the ground in journalism and our sales people."
Tim Bowdler recently announced he would retire from Johnston Press in 2009, once a suitable successor has been found. In 13 years, he took the company from being a "publisher of small local newspapers with a market capitalisation of £65m to a £700m group with 318 titles," reported the Daily Telegraph.
Identifying the Top Trends for 2008
By Tony Silber
Unless you're a fortune teller, it's harder than it appears to name the four or five things likely to most affect your business in the coming 12 months. Here, five execs try.
The Internet is, by far, having the most profound effect on the magazine industry and judging from a quick poll with the five executives that follow, its impact is felt in every facet of the business. In this informal poll, we asked an assortment of publishers what they feel are the top trends affecting their businesses in the coming year and many are still pondering how to best take advantage of digital opportunities and how they impact brand, content value and skill sets. There are other major trends to contend with, of course-distribution and audience measurement, for example-but the Internet is still proving to be the "elephant in the room."
1. Lack of confidence or conviction by those at the top. This is such a cliché, but there seem to be train-wrecks whenever those who try to manage media companies with Excel spreadsheets take over. They want to stop calling magazines "magazines," and call them "branding platforms" or something. They start having to make decisions that are all or nothing-as in, "this idea has to generate $25 million a year or we can't touch it." Some of the folks leading giant media companies appear to me-an outside observer-to be like that line from a John Mellancamp song: a person who won't stand for something will fall for anything. That's why I'm a fan of Condé Nast over, say, Time Inc. At Condé Nast, they seem to know what business they're in. Look on their Web site and it says, "We're in the magazine business," even though they're in all sorts of media businesses beyond magazines. At Time Inc., the largest magazine business in the world, they are running away from calling themselves a magazine business.
2. How advertising decisions are made. For consumer magazines-the mass media type-these days must be especially frightening. Advertising folks are perhaps more confused than people in the publishing business. They have "budgets" and they want to place "buys" but they don't really know what they want. And, frankly, their historic business models and practices make the need to manage by Excel spreadsheets too much a part of their DNA. I feel for them as they need to spend lots of money and they don't have time to really understand the nuances of different opportunities. But I don't feel the client's best interest is always served by the current RFP process.
3. The Internet. It's the elephant in the room. I think it provides the greatest opportunity for publishing companies to totally redefine and transform what they do. However, it also provides the best opportunity to totally blow it and crash and burn. So much about the Internet-how it is used for business decision-making, for instance-has changed the role of publishers, but so many of the opportunities involve "cannibalizing" cash cows. It's like tight-rope walking with no safety net, which I'm sure is exhilarating, but I'll let others test that theory.
Consumer Marketing Director
1. True Synergy. We need to figure out how to integrate our digital content (in potentially many forms) and print content so it's synergistic, not just moving readers from one medium to another.
2. Devaluation of content. Digital media is rapidly becoming entirely free, 100 percent ad-supported. This undermines our ability to charge fairly for printed content. A positive spin on that is it furthers the trend towards audience-based measurement of media. However, it also furthers the idea that professional, high quality content should be free. That's not in our long-term interest.
3. Newsstand profitability for all links in the supply chain. Factors mentioned so far mitigate against this since they all act to depress consumer demand for content, particularly at full price. But the weeklies' recent success (probably peaking) shows that newsstand vitality and momentum are still incredibly important to the industry. It shows that in spite of all the contra indicators people still love print media.
EVP Group Publishing Director
Hachette Filipacchi Media
1. We're still targeted. This is the original opt-in media. This medium is a reader choice, while other media are often consumed as background noise where the advertising is interruptive. Magazines are targeted, which leads to engagement, which leads to accountability.
2. We're in the brand business. We have a great opportunity if we don't view ourselves as being in the magazine business. We're really in the brand business, although the brand may be anchored in print. The question is how we leverage the brand content across as many mediums as the consumer wants.
3. It's about community. Magazines have always been about communities of people with similar or shared passions and interests. And interactivity has always been a part of a magazine's relationship with its readers. These traits are key to operating in the digital world and they are not new to us. Magazines have always lived in a world of consumer choice and control whether to purchase or not, or turn the page or not.
1. Engagement and accountability. More than ever our advertising partners are looking to justify their media investment. In turn, any device that can demonstrate that readers have interacted with their messaging is considered a "cost of entry."
2. A sound circulation strategy. Advertisers want to know in advance that the schedule they are about to place with a title will be met with circulation guarantees that extend beyond an agreed to ratebase. What they want to better understand is the strategy behind our circulation goals and guarantees. Quality is just as important as quantity and we as an industry will continue to be challenged to deliver excellence in every practice.
3. Talent retention. Our ability to recruit talent, develop skill sets, and retain the people we groom will be central to our ability to succeed in this changing media landscape.
President, Business Media Group
1. Go deep. Yesterday, it was wide diversification and big holding companies. Today, it's deep market focus and ownership-building out from a strong core position and not losing sight of that core.
2. True content integration. Creating a true integration of content, sales and audience strategy serving that core market across all media available.
3. First to market. Speed to market matters. Innovation is happening at an accelerated pace. You must be first in and then iterate. Learn on the fly, but jump into the opportunity quickly, and be very nimble.
4. Maintain quality. Quality matters more than ever. Cut through the noise with top-quality expertise and delivery of that expertise through multiple media and data information products.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Traditional Media: Go Digital, Increase Ad Revs
by Diane Mermigas
Making the case for traditional media advertising is no longer easy, given the fervor about game-changing interactive platforms teaming with targeted user information. In less than a decade, they will be the status quo.
The proliferation of new media-from mobile phone, satellite radio and DVR subscriptions to digital cable, satellite and telco TV-has shaken the foundation of conventional ad-supported platforms. So far, they have not collectively grabbed sufficient revenues and major advertiser support to make broadcasting and print venues overly nervous. In fact, the intangible promise of emerging advertising options overshadows the tangible sobering facts.
The total U.S. population spends more hours per year watching television (a collective 466.5 billion) than all other media combined (including consumer Internet, search, radio, consumer magazines and newspapers). Conventional TV popularity is 90 times that of online video-which is growing at a compounded annual rate of 39% over the next five years, according to Magna Global. Of course, Internet search advertising is growing double-digit, but it's barely 10% of all annual ad-supported media spending in the country.
While that is little reason for television, radio and newspapers to celebrate, it suggests there is adequate time for their constructive, even lucrative digital transformation, according to Magna Global senior vice president, director industry analyst Bruce Wieser.
Wieser convincingly came to traditional media's plight last week-ironically during a presentation on emerging media advertising at the annual UBS Media Conference. His message and supporting facts were simple and worth repeating: Although alternative new ad options are taking their share of the spotlight, traditional media still has a lot going in its favor. The continuing shift in ad dollars will be made by Madison Avenue in response to tech-empowered consumers. The most powerful prevailing truth is that advertising will follow consumers wherever they go.
Even at this nascent stage of interactive market development, print and radio generally remain more portable, while TV and radio are generally more accessible and free, and traditional media typically encompasses far more content and higher-resolution video than the Internet and other rival interactive media outlets, Wieser observed.
The prospects for online media substitution of general print, radio and television are limited by various drawbacks related to traditional media, both technical and psychological in nature.
Large advertisers must shift their focus from reach and frequency to consumer behavior. All media infrastructure must be improved, and all organizations must be redesigned to accommodate the new dynamics of interactive marketing. Above all, a standardized infrastructure and a new system of standards must be fashioned to address several key concerns, including the use of uniform metrics, a smooth buying process, the use of robust user data, and the ability to match a critical mass of unduplicated and unique reach, Wieser said.
"Six-week flights can't be changed to 90-day commitments," Wieser said, referring to the contrasting basis on which television and Internet ad time generally is sold. "If (advertisers) are moving money from one place to another (they) have to justify it with comparable metrics." The bottom line: traditional media must stop working relatively well enough before advertisers will venture en masse to new ground.
So far, smaller businesses and advertisers (representing a $48 billion market) have been the biggest beneficiaries and drivers of emerging media, in which search has allowed them to connect with and explore new markets. In turn, search has been driven by the growth of e-commerce and consumers being more comfortable with securely shopping online. Large advertiser use of online and interactive platform targeting and measurability of users has been thus far disappointed, Wieser said.
There has been a general lack of integration between brand activity and sales data. In addition, few advertisers control the consumer retail experience; their sales, product and brand functions are not coordinated enough. Few of the larger advertisers are undertaking the rigorous testing required to assess the impact of new and old media. The measurability afforded by emerging media "is great, but few (advertisers) do anything with the data," he noted. The use of emerging media generally is reserved for niche-focused brands or niche-focused marketing objectives; reaching consumers across multiple touchpoints and experimenting as advertisers construct new business models.
UBS media strategist Matthieu Coppet said that advertisers' increased use of non-media marketing (such as interactive direct response) also is diverting resources from measured ad spending, although the rapidly increasing supply of ad impressions will further fragment the integrated media market. This non-advertising marketing spending is growing materially faster than advertising expenditures globally-a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future. At some point, the premium pricing commanded by targeted and accountability-based interactive media could lead to a "de-rating of non-targeted advertising value." In other words, disruption in CPM/CPA pricing, valuation and inventory is inevitable.
The need to drill down into the changing dynamics of audience reach, frequency and behavior is critical in order to recognize the phases of shifting value between old and new media platforms. For instance, TV networks' 18-49 demographic, while stagnant, can still maintain a reach of more than 90%. However, the targeted demographics rendered by interactive platforms can be more valuable per user, as in the case of the professional adults ages 18 to 35.
Although television consumption has increased among virtually every demographic-and constitutes more of a reach than any other media- online and interactive platforms have vastly significant implications for all advertising and media consumption over the next decade, Wieser said.
When emerging media revenues and support on Madison Avenue finally reach maturity, it may not come at the expense of traditional media. More ad and marketing dollars simply may be more fragmented, or spent in more places on the media spectrum. The trick will be to prevent digital interactivity from working against television, radio and print-as it has for the music industry. Already, these emerging markets and the Internet are driving global advertising and will represent 70% of overall estimated 2008 incremental growth, the analysts said. It is a good start to creating more value, rather than displacing or destroying it.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
The Cover Price Conundrum
By Jason Fell
Increased production costs and pressures from distributors have publishers weighing the option of raising their cover prices. But, will a price spike bolster their bottom line or make their readers revolt?
Publishers have no shortage of pressures to raise their cover prices. Wholesalers and distributors argue that lower cover prices don't generate enough revenue to cover handling costs. Spikes in paper prices and increased postal delivery rates don't help either. Publishers of all sizes and demographics this year have considered raising their cover prices and some have taken the plunge-many with positive results.
As reported by John Harrington, publisher of The New Single Copy newsletter, more than 100 magazines raised their cover prices in the first half of this year-up about 30 percent over the same period in 2006. Of those, a third managed to increase their newsstand sales per-issue and more than 60 percent experienced better-than-inflation growth in retail dollar sales. "The market has been relatively friendly to a reasonable level of cover price increase," Harrington tells FOLIO:. "More than 30 percent see their units increase, and others see the dollars increase more than their units decline. They are generating more revenue and are making themselves more valuable to wholesalers an retailers."
What's a Dollar, Anyway?
One example Harrington highlights is OK! which upped its cover price from $1.99 to $2.99. The global celebrity gossip magazine saw its newsstand sales skyrocket 25.3 percent to 419,000 units per issue. That jump, Harrington says, may have been one reason why competing celebrity magazine giant Bauer Publishing-the company that pioneered low newsstand cover pricing-announced in August plans to modify its cover pricing strategy.
Another prime example of a successful cover price hike this year, Harrington says, is The Economist, which increased to $5.99 at the beginning of the year from $4.99. It was the first newsweekly to take its cover price over the $5 mark. Newsstand sales were up more than 10 percent during the first half of the year.
"It gets back to the editorial mission of the magazine, and we position ourselves as a premium product," explains Paul Rossi, publisher of The Economist North America. "If you have a very strong connection with the reader then you can charge more. For magazines with strong readerships, there's not much difference in a reader's mind between spending [a dollar more per issue]. It's not about gouging the customer. It's about understanding the value that people put on your product and pricing accordingly. Those people who love you will pay." At $129 per year, The Economist also has one of the highest subscription rates in its segment, Rossi says.
But, The Economist's spike in sales isn't attributable only to its increased cover price, but has been related in part to a ramped up marketing campaign, says Rossi.
Enthusiast publisher Active Interest Media increased cover prices on two of its titles. It set the price on Backpacker at $4.50 (Rodale used two prices: $4.50 in the specialty market and $3.99 elsewhere). It also raised the cover price on Timber Home Living from $4.99 to $5.99.
"There was revenue upside and not much risk for lowered sales," says Patricia Fox, Active Interest Media's senior vice president for operations and general manager of its Healthy Living Group. "Our magazines are priced at least at $4.99 and are very competitive in their markets."
Fox, like Rossi, believes that publishers will see positive results from raising cover prices if their editorial content is strong. "We don't particularly want to be the newsstand price leader, but will raise our prices when it makes competitive and financial sense." Next year, Active Interest Media plans also to raise cover prices on BlackBelt, from $4.99 to $5.99.
The New Single Copy's Harrington says he doesn't expect a surge in publishers raising cover prices next year. "Generally, the results this year have been good," he says. "If you look at most of the magazines that declined in units after increasing their cover prices you'll see that they were already in a trend of losing units. What I think will be interesting to watch are publishers like Bauer, which used to heavily advertise their low cover prices, and how they make out over the next few months."
Steering the "New World Digital Order"By BoSacks
There is a book by Ray Kurzweil called "The Singularity Is Near." In this book, Mr. Kurzweil has a theory about The Law of Accelerating Returns, which states that in today's business environment, "Change happens faster than we are able to forecast or predict it." This is a departure not only from long ago, but from our more recent past as well. There was, in our lifetime, the possibility of accurately predicting technologic growth. Those days have gone up in digital smoke. Technologic growth that once took multiple generations to achieve now happens in months.
Another of Mr. Kurzweil's concepts is that the rate of technologic change is not linear, but exponential. This is not a new concept to anyone in the publishing field.
Everyone knows that I love technology and the possibilities that it holds, especially for those in our industry. We are, no doubt, on the bleeding edge compared to most other professionals. Retailers, lawyers, cabbies, mothers and most others, although impacted every day by the new world digital order, are affected somewhat less visibly than those of us who transmit information in the forms of magazines, newspapers, newsletters and the like. We are pushing and prodding the system to go ever faster.
Over the past decade, publishers have digitally married the electronic workflow. It occurred to me this morning that a magazine can no longer be produced without a computer. This is not a shocking discovery, but it did make me stop and think. From the written word pecked out on a keyboard, e-mailed and clipped by the editor, formatted and manipulated by the art director, spun with great skill and digital alchemy by the production elite, and converted by the printer magically to CTP, there is no longer any step in the process that is not fully and completely computerized. The presses are controlled by digits, the bindery is efficiently automated, and the bundling and shipping is all tagged and directed by database files. In the near future, magazines will likely have little computer chips called RFID imbedded into them for further electronic enhancement and accountability.
But what exactly have we produced with all this speed and technology? We have precision-engineered a book, a magazine or a newspaper--all three printed on paper. We have created a product that requires no electricity to operate. You don't need to plug it in or even attach a cord. In fact, if you do have a cord, it won't fit. It is not sensitive to magnetic surges or system failures of any kind. If left alone, it retains its imagery indefinitely. It can be dropped, stepped upon and will still be totally functional. And if, God forbid, you should spill coffee on it, for a few bucks you can get an exact duplicate. Basically, the format can never become outdated.
So now that that is out of my system, I can move on. Mr. Kurzweil is right about the dramatic speed of change, and that change has affected society as well as technology. And although the printed product is near perfection, there is one thing that it just cannot do, and that is refresh, change and update itself. Once, these were unnecessary, unsought-after functions. Now, we may have a society that demands them.
Here is another interesting thought on technology and our new society that comes from the findings of an in-depth, seven-month study by MTV and the Associated Press on happiness and young people: How happy are they, what makes them happy, and what are they doing to ensure future happiness? The results are that cell phones, the Internet and other technologies are woven into the lives of today's young people, and nearly two-thirds say that technology makes them happier.
What we have now in "screenagers" is a generation that has the ability to be in touch with each other immediately starting at earlier and earlier ages. This new generation of kids is naturally adept with technology and the speed of its change. They are comfortable with having virtual access to friends, family and the world at large. This is a generation that is just as comfortable with digital delivery as it is with bound books.
My conclusion from all this is that there is a very positive and robust future for publishers. We have the technology to print perfect books and magazines for those who desire them. We also have the ability to reach out to new generations of readers in new formats such as e-paper, cell phones and PDAs, and who knows what is right around the corner. All that matters is that we monetize our franchise and deliver our product to readers everywhere and anywhere they would like it.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and often called a new age corporate janitor.