Monday, December 08, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: Surviving Publishing's Perfect Storm?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Surviving Publishing's Perfect Storm?
By Robert M. Sacks
Let’s face it, traditional publishing is under serious attack. We are facing both the customary enemy of rising manufacturing costs and the nontraditional entry of strong digital competition where once none existed. And if that wasn’t enough, we have the increasingly evident disadvantage of a terrible carbon footprint. This is a perfect storm of tremendous proportions. What are publishers to do? How can we survive?

In the past few weeks, a couple of headlines have crossed my desk. Each alone is powerful enough, but when considered together they offer terra-forming, watershed moments for the magazine industry, and, if viewed correctly, financial hope and a foundation for a very successful publishing enterprise.

The first headline comes from a Media-Ideas press release that claimed that: “In 25 years, digital magazines will command 75 percent of the magazine market.” That is a powerful statement and, even if these calculations are off by 50 percent, it means that almost 40 percent of printed magazines will be gone in 25 years. Will yours be one of those missing titles? Are you gearing up for that kind of transformation?

Media-Ideas attributes this transition to the growth of new and more affordable, flexible e-reading technologies, some apparently ready for deployment as early as 2009. These devices will be full-color, flexible, e-paper-based reading instruments. There will be several stages to the development and release of these new products, but the results will be staggering. I believe that the 25-year time line is conservative, as technology notoriously proceeds much faster than anyone can predict.

The next headline is a statement from the United Nations communications chief, who predicts that more than half of the world’s population will be connected by some sort of mobile phone before 2009. That is a large number of people possessing Web-accessible, text-reading, communication devices. Can you imagine when flexible e-paper, digital-magazine-reproducing products get into that global equation?

The proliferation of powerful, handheld, supercharged communication systems changes everything, including our precepts and concepts of publishing. Technology is no longer only for nerds, or an indulgence for the rich. It’s who we all are and who we will be. It’s embedded in our lives and culture. It’s everywhere, it’s global, and there’s no going back to rolls of parchment, or mass-distributed, carbon-hogging magazine distribution.

Printed magazines will not disappear, but they will become the less dominant reading platform and perhaps exist only for those who can afford them. Of course, printed niche products will continue to thrive, though non-niche titles will not make it—according to Darwin’s law of survival of the fittest or, in this case, Bo’s law of survival of the most uniquely remarkable. And the subset of Bo’s law is that unique remarkability is in the eyes of the distinctive beholder (reader).
So, what am I getting at with this introduction of the new world order of communications? As new generations of e-paper reading devices enter the market, the relevance of digital magazines will take on a whole new importance.

If digital magazines have not made sense to you yet in the 21st century, they will with the advent and ubiquity of portable and flexible e-paper devices.

You can add to this conversation that digital magazines have the increasingly important advantage of being able to measure the impact of everything the reader does—the advertisements, the clicks, transactions, the reading time, the actual engagement of the consumer with the product itself. Publishers must act now on their digital-magazine implementation plans or risk irrelevance in the new media future. PE

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (, and 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, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.

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