Category "The Future"

Electronic Magazines

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If you’re interested in how magazines are approaching the e-reader market (iPad for now) this exchange between Josh Quittner, editor at large for digital development at Time Inc and Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine is pretty interesting. Jarvis was critical of the Time app (“I think the TIME Magazine app is the most sinful piece of shit ever“) for how walled in it was. Quittner responds on The Third Screen:

Google is a great business—for Google. We all know that it has made Google an enormous amount of money for itself and its shareholders. And I have no doubt that Google ads and the attendant freeconomy keep bloggers like you in cigs and the occasional bottle of Midnight Train. The notion, however, that ALL media must be free, and linkable, and remixable and open not only doesn’t work for large, news-gathering organizations, it’s turning out that it’s not even what all readers/consumers want. There is no single recipe for success in the media business, professor.

In the comments someone asks Quittner about the price which in my mind is something that needs to be ironed out quickly in the early stages of e-readers.

I understand the point of charging what the market will bear but I do have other entertainment options and the magazines that get pricing right will get my long term loyalty.

To which he responds:

Like you, however, I made an erroneous assumption: That the incremental cost of making a digital copy was zero. In fact, it’s not. A typical issue of Time is about 80 megabytes, which costs a lot more to deliver than you’d think. (I’m told, in fact, that it’s weirdly close to how much it costs us to deliver an issue of a magazine.)

On the pricing front I was surprised to see National Geographic going for fifteen bucks because I know they’ve got a lot of interactive stuff baked into their Zinio offering. It turns out all the Zinio magazines are priced the same as the print subscriptions (Esquire is eight bucks for a year) and that the newest release of their app has solved a ton of issues and is running quite well now. Most of the magazines seem to be about a buck and issue which is not bad even if they are only scanning the pages.

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Based on the number of titles at Zinio it will be difficult for other magazines to charge more for their electronic version. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Defending Big Record Companies

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I was listening to the Adam Carolla Podcast a few weeks back and he had the band O.K. GO on the show. They had recently split up with their record label EMI (Billboard story) so it was interesting to hear their frontman Damian Kulash defend big record labels. I’d never really thought much about this but it really made sense to me so I wrote it down:

What record labels are really good for is essentially risk aggregation. It’s a very small percentage of bands that get to the level of being signed and even of those people who’ve gotten past that very high bar only about 5 percent succeed. So, 19 out of 20 fail. If it was your own money, you would be a moron to spend it, because there’s a 95 percent chance that money’s not going to come back even if you’re already at the level that record labels want to sign you.

So, the only way people can make that bet is to conglomerate all of them. You sign 100 band and assume 5 of them are going to succeed and the other 95 fail you just need to make enough back from those 5, which is why record contracts are so onerous in the first place for successful artists, because the money you are now making is paying for the other 95 percent who failed.

Somebody needs to be doing that risk aggregation unless we only want the independently wealthy who are artists.

When you think about it in terms of magazines and newspapers, because all the stories are packaged together they can afford to take chances and to have a few misses in there. And, that’s probably my biggest complaint about them as well. They stopped taking advantage of their unique ability to  swing for the fences and whiff a few once in awhile.

iPad – Magazine Savior, Portfolio Replacement Or A Complete Waste Of Time?

The iPad has the potential to save the magazine industry, may become an important marketing tool for photographers but is a complete waste of time (good for consumers, bad for work).

A lot of ink has been spilled over the anticipation, launch and criticism/joy over the iPad and now that the dust has settled I wanted to offer my own take on the device.

For Work

My first thought with the device out to the box was to use it as a way to get work done when not at my desk. I ran into two major problems with this. 1. It’s difficult to carry around because there’s no handle and it doesn’t fit in your grip so well. 2. It sucks to type on and if you spend all day typing emails like most people these days, you will add hours to your work day trying to type on this thing. So, basically it’s worthless for work. I can’t imagine a single photo editor using one and given the fact that most businesses are many years behind in even updating browsers it’s unlikely in a corporate setting it will be used for anything except testing.

Another big issue with using something like this for work is how bad the web surfing is. I don’t find it to be very quick online, the size of the screen compared to the real estate most sites are using causes lots of problems and lack of support for flash makes the online experience full of holes. Now, I really don’t want to debate the flash vs html in the comments here but I think there’s a lot of misinformation about the two. First of all flash is not going anywhere online. Here’s a couple articles that address this (Giz Explains: Why HTML5 Isn’t Going to Save the Internet, The Future of Web Content – HTML5, Flash & Mobile Apps) and most experts seem to agree (“I’m often asked “Will HTML5 replace Flash?” on the Web. The quick answer is no.” – TechCrunch story) that flash cannot be unseated as one of the standards widely adopted languages on the web.

One point that seems to get everyone fired up is html vs. flash in building websites. I have my own reasons for choosing flash, but I’ve seen horrible and awesome in both so there’s really no point in debating it. Each has its benefits. I will say that flash changed the website viewing experience for photo editors which up until Livebooks started building sites was excruciatingly horrible. I’m on record saying how much I loved flash sites as a photo editor way before I got into building websites. I’ve seen some excellent html sites but the ease at which you can build a site in html leads to many, many more diy’ers creating junk and leading to an overall feeling among photo editors that html sites were low class. One thing worth noting from all the hubbub about the two languages: “few people realize is that while H.264 appears to be an open and free standard, in actuality it is not. It is a standard provided by the MPEG-LA consortsia, and is governed by commercial and IP restrictions, which will in 2014 impose a royalty and license requirement on all users of the technology.” So, there’s more trouble brewing for video down the road.

For Looking At Pictures

The iPad is awesome for thumbing through images. The guardian eyewitness app, which showcases some of the best news photography is an excellent example of this. You scroll through a selection of images with the flip of a finger and can turn the captions on with a single tap. Horizontal images seem to look the best and holding it in the orientation feels natural to me and seems easier to do the swipes and taps.

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The big question on everyone’s mind seems to be how can a device that shows off photography this well be used to land jobs. Since I don’t think you will find many PE’s and AB’s using one it’s more likely that a photographer will have one at a meeting or in their kit on set to show additional work. And, I think for showing off multimedia this will become the de facto portfolio as it seems nearly perfect for that. Some people have suggested shipping them around like portfolios and I’m not sure that’s such a great idea. You’ve got to worry about the battery if the thing is accidentally turned on, you’ve got to prepare for people who are technologically inept and I don’t think there’s a way to take over the device and not allow other uses besides looking at the portfolio. The other problem with an iPad as a portfolio is how hard it is for people to change their ways. Someone who is used to great success finding the perfect photographer for a project by calling in books is not going to trust a new method immediately. Also, you’ve got a pretty small screen compared to most books as Zack Seckler over on The FStop points out:

I got in touch with four art buyers at top ad agencies and they all seem to agree that print still offers a superior viewing experience. A glowing screen just doesn’t compare to big beautifully printed images on luxurious paper. If a client is looking through books, deciding to whom to grant a big budget project, a 9″ screen won’t hold up well against rich detailed prints nearly twice it’s size.

Check Zack showing off the image and video capabilities:

Sweet!

For The Magazine Industry

I’m pretty optimistic on the iPad as a savior of sorts for magazines and newspapers. First off, it really is a consumer device. Horrible for work, but awesome for watching videos, looking at images and reading text. It doesn’t hurt that surfing the web is not so great too. In fact a closed environment like this is perfect for publishers (a closed system also prevents content from getting ripped off). And, here’s the thing, this is what magazine people do best, package content. The challenge is whether they can create a workflow and design template that allows them to create stories that flow from print to all the different devices that will soon be available. Dell is building a 5 inch tablet (here), Google has one (here) and European publishers are backing a WePad of sorts (here).

I checked out several magazines on the device and my favorite by a long shot was Time. The Popular Science app has been receiving the most buzz because they set out to redefine how a magazine behaves on the pad and take advantage of the technology but I found myself gravitating towards a traditional magazine experience only enhanced. Time nailed the navigation, you swipe sideways to advance through the issue you swipe up to read more of a story, you rotate the device to activate some of the advertising. The photography looks stunning and the packaging of content is perfect for something like this. The other magazines I checked out on the iPad: Dwell, Outside and the Zinio Reader magazines were a disappointment and amounted to not much more than scanned pages. I’m guessing everyone is cautious to see if the device actually gains traction.

Here’s an overview of the Art Direction by Brad Colbow:

The linchpin to the whole deal for magazines is reach of the device. All of the magazines have been roundly criticized for their pricing which is something I’ve touched on before. It’s sort of like magazine companies saying you have to install a $500 newsstand in your house and then pay them $5 an issue to deliver magazines. It seems absurd to me, but I wonder if someone will break ranks and show how many eyeballs you can attract with pricing. The WePad is looking to bundle with content so you essentially pay for subscriptions to major publishers and the pad comes free. This is the business model that will surely get these things in the hands of lots of people. Of course this all relies on advertisers responding to the traditional method of display advertising which will never be back to the levels it once was. I do think there’s more of an opportunity for consumers to be exposed to advertising in this situation and certainly this kind of advertising has the opportunity to be more interactive and interesting.

The iPad is perfect for those 15 minute to 1 hour interactions you love magazines for. If magazine publishers can figure out an efficient workflow, attractive pricing and the devices can reach critical mass we will have a savior on our hands.

NY Times Pronounces Professional Photography Dead And Switches To Stock

- - The Future

UPDATE: April Fools.

I think we all saw this one coming the way the NY Times has been harping on and on about the demise of professional photography, “For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path.” I’m a little shocked they went straight for the istock dollar bin and didn’t even bother to remove the watermarks. Seriously, you guys can’t even pay the flippin’ one credit? See it for yourself (here).

NY_NYT

Kodak Announces Aromatography

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UPDATE: April Fools.

This may just be the big breakthrough Kodak needs. Who doesn’t look at a picture and think “man, I wish I could smell that”… ok, Nachtwey probably isn’t thinking that, but whatever this is some cool shit. More (here).

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Mariano Pastor – Madison Ave. Photography At Common Man Prices

Still life photographer Mariano Pastor shoots product images in his studio for L’Oreal, Givenchy, Schick and Lancome.

Mariano

He recently launched a website and business called Via U! where “smaller companies can get the same quality photography he creates for his Madison Ave. clients at a price affordable by the common man.”

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The site is pretty slick and allows you to pick a background, then pick a composition (or even compose it yourself in a 3d layout modeler) then you ship him the product with some simple instructions and voila, download your photo the next day.

What’s it all cost? Nothing.

He shoots it for free and if you like the shot you pay $112 (half price introductory offer), for all rights.

I like the premise of serving an undeserved market (mom and pop need a killer shot for their local newspaper) and certainly product shoots at $250 a pop or less (at least editorially) is not unheard of. And certainly many companies have built in house studios for this very reason, but just selling images to everyone for a flat fee, regardless of the use seems like a bad deal for photography.

I emailed Mariano to ask him what happens now that L’Oreal says they’d like to pay $112 for a picture? He said “L’Oreal loves the price.” Natch.

When I asked him if he was worried about the backlash from other photographers for selling product photography based on the time it takes to make a picture not the usage he responded with:

How the business of commercial photography is changing is a subject that I considered a big deal while planning Via U!.

All in all what you have going now is what economists refer as “disruptive technologies”. The automobile for instance proved to be pretty disruptive for the horse and buggy industry. The digital camera and photoshop has made possible for a large number of people to achieve results previously unattainable. Digital distribution globalizes the market.

What you end up with is a tsunami of pictures that results in lowering prices. Wonderful for photo buyers, grim for photographers.

You may make the argument that Via U! makes it easier for our client’s to work by charging a flat fee and doing away with usage rights. And we do… no negotiations. That is nice.

However, our policies are also simply reacting to the forces unleashed by technology. Similarly Getty and Corbis are struggling to deal with microstock for the same reasons.

Can’t say I’m complete surprised by this. I know product photography was one of the categories hit hard early on when companies started doing the shots internally so maybe this is just the natural progression of a photographer competing for the bottom dollar there, except something doesn’t feel right to me. Doing this kind of thing for small companies seems like a smart play, delivering the same price to billion dollar companies seems rotten.

Digital Editions Of Magazines Will Count In Circulation Figures

- - Magazines, The Future

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) announced recently that digital replicas of magazines that are requested and paid for will count in circulation figures (here). This is huge news for publishers as it will allow them a new outlet for cheap circulation, something that’s been missing ever since publishing clearing house went down in early 2000 (here). The digital editions of magazines will be counted on the circulation report and broken out like bulk (doctors office, etc.), so it remains to be seen how advertisers will react to the change.

What I hope will happen is that publishers who sell their printed edition at a loss will raise rates there and price digital editions cheap. This should be a no-brainer since the distribution and printing cost of these copies is zero. Sure, it costs something to port it for all these devices but once that becomes a part of the workflow for creating the magazine in the first place (a design that’s flexible) it shouldn’t be an issue.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of missing advertising dollars, but if they can move hundreds of thousands of subscribers to digital editions it will save a lot of money on printing and distribution. If they’ve got any brains they’ll invest that back into content.

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Magnum’s Turnaround Business Plan

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ArtInfo.com has a little more depth on the sale of the Magnum print archive worth an estimated $100 million to Michael Dell’s MSD Capital. A couple bits from Magnum’s managing director Mark Lubell reveal that he “developed a three-year ‘turnaround business plan’ to move the co-op away from the revenue streams it had traditionally relied on. And that, “Magnum’s 51 members and 13 estates voted for the plan unanimously.” (story here)

Although he declined to go in to detail about how the company plans to use the proceeds from the sale of its archive, Lubell says that some money will go toward a Web initiative that will give photographers a platform to distribute content. Funds will also be devoted to helping photographers reach field destinations for stories and see them through long-term — the kind of journalism that was once Magnum’s bread and butter. For instance, photographers will be sent to Haiti over the next 12 to 18 months to document the nation’s effort to rebuild. After the initial tragedy subsides, “everyone leaves,” Lubell says, and because the aftermath isn’t headline news, coverage of continuing crises typically aren’t “funded in traditional media circles.”

I’d heard rumors in the past that the members fully understood that if Magnum were to have a future they would have to forge it without the help of magazines and newspapers. It looks like we’re about to watch that plan unfold.

It’s interesting to contemplate how in-depth coverage came to be packaged with junk and now that people can get their junk without their depth the numbers don’t seem to support that kind of thing anymore. I like the idea that when people say stories need to be shorter Magnum could do the opposite and make them longer than ever before. That’s the kind of thinking that will lead to a solution at some point. Some of my favorite moments working at a magazine have been getting shoots back from photojournalists. No one can tell a story, capture defining moment, thrive under duress and deliver the goods like they do. I can’t imagine a world without them.

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Building Trust With Your Potential Clients

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I know I’m more of an optimist than most, but whenever I see something like this it makes me think that the free culture/attitude is less about “I want everything for free” and more about “I’m tired of being lied and tricked into buying something and I need a way to trust you before we do business.”

Video by Michael Hanson while shooting the story for the NYTimes (here).

D-Day For Tablet Freaks

- - Magazines, The Future

UPDATE: iPad

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Everyone in the media industry will be waiting with baited breath as Apple unveils its tablet computer today (live here at 10am PST)

Will the Apple tablet save publishing? No.

It will force them to get off their collective duffs and start investing in defending their brand digitally, but just like the music industry the business model–where you’re forced to buy a bunch of crap to get at the one thing you want–is broken. I’ve long predicted a bright shiny future for people who deal in photography and the tablet is one more device where things shouting for our attention will require creative geniuses to give us arresting imagery.

Designer Joe Zeff has this to say (here):

Watch closely as newspaper and magazine publishers bet their last nickels — not an exaggeration, in some cases — on this new medium. It provides the 50-somethings who run these companies a chance to captivate subscribers and advertisers by returning to their roots — producing and selling the terrific newspapers and magazines that made these brands valuable in the first place. But even better than the original, with up-to-the-minute content that can be individualized for every reader — and advertiser. Happy days are here again, along with the ubiquity, relevance and brand loyalty that has been absent from the publishing world for the past 15 years.

Jason Kincaid over on TechCrunch (here) describes how a tablet will change the way we consume media and a big part of that consumption will be in rich media where text, graphics, audio, video and photography combine to immerse users in a story telling experience.

I for one am looking forward to getting rid of the piles of magazines, browsing an endless newsstand of titles and buying well written, well photographed and well designed stories to read.

The Beginning Of The End?

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Jamie Kripke: Hey Rob – have you seen this:

Jamie: 98% CGI by a 30 year old dude in Spain with a single PC. It’s beautiful. We’ve all seen a lot of CGI over the years, but it’s usually just a bit off, or just too slick and most of it is really expensive, and requires a team of people to make it look right. But this is different — this is one guy and a PC. Low budget. And he’s not a photographer by training either. Photographers, especially ad shooters, are freaking out about this.

Rob: I’m not sure I get what all the fuss is about. I saw it a couple days ago and was blown away by how it looked, but overall it seemed underwhelming to me. Maybe I’m missing something?

Jamie: Most of this was made by one guy, without a camera, and without leaving his desk, for little or no money. Photographers and art directors aside (b/c they are not the ones cutting the checks), what client wouldn’t want to have complete control over a shoot for a fraction of the budget of going on location?

Rob: It costs dollars to make a photograph anymore and now we’re seeing CGI going from millions to thousands of dollars. The value is no longer in the creation of the product. It all lies in the creativity. The idea. Only an artist can give it meaning.

Jamie: I think most would agree — without the idea, you have nothing. This is also about the shifting role of the photographer. Here’s a guy who’s not a photographer (at least not in the traditional sense) that is creating beautiful images without a camera. He’s bringing both the vision and the execution at a very high level.

I think it’s pretty rare for one person to have both skills in spades, but if things continue in this direction, what does it mean for photographers? Will their role turn into one of simply relaying experiences or imagining images that are then recreated in CGI by a dude at a desk? Will location shoots become a thing of the past, with photographers spending their days racking their brains in windowless rooms? Who knows?

Obviously there is a random, candid human element that will always defy CGI, and portrait shooters should be ok, but when you think about landscapes, products, architecture, it starts to get iffy. Especially when you bring tight ad budgets and tight clients into the picture.

So in a CGI world, who’s going to bring the vision?

Rob: A photographer has two roles: make something beautiful and make something interesting/meaningful. Now this guy Alex made something beautiful but then he filled it with clichés: doves, cherry blossoms, dolly shots, crane shots and a bunch of focus pulls.

So, it seems that now photographers don’t need to work on making something beautiful. It can be done in post. The photographer is now an artist and a problem solver. They need to come up with the unexpected and original.

Hasn’t it always been this way with photography. The choices are endless, practically unlimited. Photography is about editing. Where you stand, what time of day and when you push the button. The CGI artist has all those endless choices too.

The big product guys already have photographers on staff to take pictures for them because it’s the idea that counts. We’ve been there for awhile with product photography.

Jamie: Yes, and photographers now have more tools to choose from than ever before. For those of us that enjoy hauling cases of camera gear to distant locations, the idea of creating images without getting on a plane or hearing the click of a shutter can seem scary, but it’s also incredibly exciting. I’d like to believe that we’re heading into a golden age of photography where literally anything will be possible.

Rob: For optimists, anything is possible.

Here’s the making of vid for the doubters: http://www.vimeo.com/8200251
and here is a bit more info on the creator Alex Roman: http://motionographer.com/2009/08/16/alex-roman-thethirdtheseventh/

How 2010 Is Shaping Up For Advertising

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Advertising Age has a look at how advertising is shaping up for the various categories in 2010 (here):

Automotive
“Ford Motor Co.’s Jim Farley, group VP-global marketing, told a conference that the automaker plans to spend half its 2010 ad budget on ‘experiential’ and online marketing, because 75% of new-vehicle buyers now shop online.”

Beer
“…some beer marketers acknowledge that the brands have, for years, been marketed in a commoditized fashion. ‘People have seen the brands as very much the same,’ said one veteran beer-marketing executive, ‘and that makes the cheaper stuff look like a reasonable replacement.’”

Consumer Package Goods
“…great marketing could substitute for new technology. Innovation can also come by making the experience better.”

Digital Marketing
“…while consumer attention has moved to the web, consumer marketing has not. Instead, the web has, in the words of IAB chief Randall Rothenberg, been colonized ‘by the evil aliens of the direct-response planet.’”

Print
“…this will be the year when publishers find out whether readers will pay for digital content. ”

TV Adertising
“‘I care more about the program than the network that it’s on,’ said Peggy Green, media-buying executive at Publicis Groupe’s Zenith.”

Wireless
“think of the 2.8 million households that hung onto their analog TV sets on the eve of the nation’s switch to digital TV. ‘Migrations take time,’ noted Bob Rosenberg, president of Insight Research.”

Are You Ready For The Frustration Decade?

- - The Future

Seth Godin is calling the 2010′s the frustration decade (here). We’ve all experienced the frustration with the old way of doing things not working anymore and now the growing frustration with all the cool technology and new ways of doing business not being robust enough. Combine that with slow economic turnaround and I’ll agree it’s the perfect recipe for frustration. He’s giving you the option to embrace the changes and not fight them but I like his next entry on the “Evolution of every medium” (here):

1. Technicians who invented it, run it
2. Technicians with taste, leverage it
3. Artists take over from the technicians
4. MBAs take over from the artists
5. Bureaucrats drive the medium to banality

This means the next decade will belong to the artists. The people who can make you say wow and stop your busy life for a second to check something out. Taking what’s been created and turning it into something beautiful with impact and meaning is the job of artists. An artists with an MBA sounds like a powerful combination. Anyway, here’s to the decade where the artists take over. That will probably be frustrating for some people, hopefully not you.

Predictions for 2010

Folio Magazine has their annual Magazine and Media Predictions for 2010 (here) and there are a few choice quotes I’ve highlighted below. I’ve got a few of my own predictions:

Slightly down is the new up.

We will see fire sale buyouts (a la Business Week) of a few big titles rather than shuttering (a la Gourmet).

More photographers will get into the workshop, book writing and teaching side of the photography business. This is proving by all appearances to be super lucrative, but will get very crowded and competitive as people with an impressive oeuvre enter the market.

Photographers who market with ideas and innovation will be snapped up by marketers who need fresh ideas and innovation.

Product photography will heat up as companies realize products online need great photography to convert online shoppers into buyers.

Local markets will go red hot as local online markets get competitive and companies that normally needed no photos for a yellowpage ad now need lots of photography for a nice looking website.

Video goes nuclear, because nothing is commissioned anymore without video and hey, “doesn’t that camera shoot video too.”

Web 2.0 ideas will give way to Web 3.0 which is fundamentally the joining of content with social tools.

–Jim Spanfeller, president and CEO, The Spanfeller Group (formerly CEO of Forbes.com)

Staff sizes will rebound as managers realize that staffs designed for print can’t do print and a whole host of new initiatives on top of that, at least not effectively.

–Tony Silber, general manager, FOLIO: and Audience Development

Only one or two magazines for most major vertical markets will survive.

There will be many changes at the top of editorial mastheads with more e-community management skills supplementing traditional journalistic skills for the winners.

Print will become richer, better paper will be used, graphics will improve, quality of content will improve and distribution/circulation numbers will drop.

–Don Pazour, CEO, Access Intelligence

One hopeful breakthrough: the four color e-reader. It will be really helpful. Some of the big publications will probably get a few hundred thousand digital e-reader subscribers paying anywhere from $10 to $50. This will bring in anywhere from $3 million to $15 million in subscriber revenue. Unfortunately, some of those same magazines have seen their ad revs drop by $100 million. Get the picture.

–Keith Kelly, “Media Ink” columnist, New York Post

Plenty more to see (here).

Another Digital Concept Magazine

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Publisher Bonnier worked with design agency BERG to come up with the Mag+ tablet:

via, Gizmodo

I like this guy already because he says the page flipping is lame (my word) and scrolling is more natural. I also like the idea where you find the things you’re interested in reading in an image based environment and then when you want to drill down in a story the images fade back and it becomes a pure reading experience. This allows the device to be quite small. Of course, photography is so critical to the future of media, I can’t overstate how well it works to communicate ideas quickly and helps you navigate a ton of information.

The only critical piece of the puzzle left here (besides building the damn thing) is the price. This is where the magazine industry will inevitably drop the ball because they’d quickly like to get back to the large profits they were used to. I think cell phone pricing will be critical for mass adoption. The device should be $100 or even free and then users will pay for a tiered number of magazines or articles to look at each month and lock into one and two year plans. On the other hand if they want to charge $800 for the device the yearly subscription for a magazine should be $1. The cost of making a copy and distributing it is zero. I would pay the dollar to have access to a bunch of magazines where I might read a couple articles a year or only look at the pictures. Sort of a newsstand type of arrangement.

The publishing industry is looking a little brighter these days. Just in time.

thx, anthea.