I love National Geographic, the pictures, the articles, the random statistics – all of it. This is the only magazine subscription I keep. It is impossible to substitute the amazing photography and interesting prose by any other format. Perhaps it’s the “touch and feel” of the pages or the building anticipation of what is on the next page that RSS, NG’s website, or any other web technology just cannot replicate. Like the dodo bird and the dinosaurs, many magazines, including some other publication’s of National Geographic, are unfortunately facing extinction. The immediately pressing problems for the industry are from declining advertisement revenues and overall subscriptions. However, a greater systemic problem is unfolding due to changing media consumption trends, internal cannibalization (most publications offer full content on their websites), and new distribution methods – like Amazon’s Kindle.
The Internet recently surpassed the newspaper as the choice more people make to get their news . This isn’t really shocking considering that all mainstream media outlets like CNN have major outlets on the Web. These websites offer immediacy and interactivity that newspapers cannot rival. RSS feeds offer online readers even more because the readers only subscribe to the content that interests them. These two methods have serious limitations as to portability and readability, however. Have you ever tried reading a long article on the Web? If so, you have probably felt more tired than before you started reading (backlit monitors strain our eyes) and frustrated by having to click foward through several pages of the article. Have you ever carried your laptop outside just to read an article? If so, the direct sunlight makes it near impossible to read not to mention the juice needed to power the laptop. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a smart phone which is far more portable and power friendly, you still have to contend with a tiny screen for reading. In steps the Kindle.
Amazon’s Kindle is slowly changing the distribution method for knowledge based media like magazines, books, and textbooks. It is light (10 oz.), has long battery life, uses electronic ink to reduce eye fatigue, and can download updates over the air like your cellphone. Why, then, are Kindles not as ubiquitous as the iPod? First, the device is cost prohibitive at US $359.00. There are many other gadgets that come before the Kindle on shopper’s wish lists. Second, the cost of the content to download. Although free to surf Wikipedia, all other blogs, newspapers, and books, start at US $1.99. This could develop into an expensive habit considering that most of the same content is free on the Web. Third, the device still has technical limitations. The wireless distribution method is restricted to Evolution-Data Optimized (EVDO) cellular carriers like Sprint and Verizon, but not AT&T. To download updates to the Kindle, you have to be within one of the wireless carriers networks. Similarly, the actual screen uses electronic ink which is currently only available in black and white for mass production – color has not yet broken out of the labs. I like to see pictures and images in full color just like my National Geographic intended. Fourth, the way we learn by depending on spatial mapping and other cognitive tricks is our own shortcoming when using these e-readers. I just finished reading The Last Lecture and can pinpoint with relative accuracy the pages containing the quotes for my preview post. Without pages, I would have a more difficult time finding the location of those quotes. Sure I could search for keywords or have been diligent enough to bookmark the page on the Kindle, but I certainly could not look at the foredge of the book and know that the quote was about 3/4 or 1/2 of the way into the book.
The Kindle, along with other media distribution methods, is not perfect. In this quiet before the storm, printers, advertisers, and content creators, should be searching for a way to exploit this media shift to lesson the coming blow. Printers, especially those dependent upon this knowledge based media, would be wise to look into alternative revenue streams by diversifying and growing new profit centers. The Kindle, or other yet-to-be-created device, will continue to get better with every evolution. The current imperfections will be fixed and when the convergence of a unifying wireless platform combines with a near limitless power source and a flexible, easy to use device, the game will change permanently. At this tipping point, all printers will face a structural change in the way they do business – get ready.