Friday, March 11, 2011

David Granger Has Seen the Promised Land of Print and Digital Partnership

The January/February issue of Publishing Executive magazine includes an interesting guest column by Esquire magazine editor David Granger. Longtime readers of this blog – or new readers who just have a lot of time on their hands to read all of my old posts on Esquire in general or David Granger in particular – know that I both respect and am impatient with the long-serving celebrated editor of Esquire. On the one hand, he really gets it on why print is important and what it does better than anything else. On the other hand, I think he produces a magazine that underperforms in terms of its writing and intellectual quality and gets sidetracked with silly gimmicks. It's Esquire, after all; it's hard to get an American magazine with a better pedigree than that. But the mag is filled with articles written for people who are hipper than they are bright, smirkier than they are stylish.

But whether or not you agree with me, I think he's someone to whom you should pay attention if you're interested in the dramatically evolving world of periodicals publishing. In his PubExec column, Granger enthuses about the growing "entanglement" between all of a publication's media: print, web site, tablet computer.
[W]e're taking advantage of the Web's awesome disseminative power to broadcast a daily version of Esquire to the widest possible audience and then to entice a significant percentage of that audience to pay for the print and iPad Esquire experiences. Simply, subs sold on the Web are cheaper to acquire, and you can charge more for them. The iPad and other e-readers promise a whole new distribution matrix that will build on this foundation and let consumers carry more of the revenue load. Beautiful. 
And, of course, as this happens, we will get to pour more resources into doing even crazier, more expansive magazine/Web/iPad projects that will make everyone want our products more and make them more valuable to advertisers.
I think Granger's on the correct general path toward finding how different media forms work together, and helping to end the fundamentalist fight between people who just hate print or just resent the internet.

I've received the occasional request from readers of my issue-by-issue chronicle of the late science-fiction film magazine Starlog for directions on where they can find digital copies of that magazine. Each time, I reply that the former publisher of the magazine had at one time promised to release a digital archive of the magazine, but it hasn't appeared yet. Any digital copies you find online are illegal, and I can't support them.

Despite my responses and despite the lack of a legal digital copy available, it's not too hard online to find people who have scanned print articles or even entire magazines and posted them to their blogs or web sites. Think of it as media convergence, rebel-style.

The image above that accompanies this post is of a cover of Esquire magazine, but it's not the American edition, despite my discussing the editor of the U.S. edition. The above image of the South Korean edition of Esquire is from a screen grab of a web page that I came across doing a simple Google Images search for "Esquire 2011" – and it's apparently a site where you can illegally download digital copies of a wide variety of magazines (from the looks of the featured magazines on the site's home page, they specialize in soft-core porn magazines, which is an interesting twist on the one print publishing niche that I do agree has no reason to continue existing in a world where nekkid pictures are disseminated much faster and cheaper online). Cut off at the bottom of the image above is the handy download button.

But I'm not sure the publisher of Esquire can or should be too upset about the magazine's unauthorized distribution over the internet. Granted, they don't make any direct money from it, but as Granger notes in praising his magazine's own authorized digital forays, digital offerings can allow the magazine to reach a wider audience, some of whom can be enticed "to pay for the print and iPad Esquire experiences."

The print edition of the U.S. Esquire is not expensive; I believe the price has risen since I entered into a ridiculously cheap multi-year subscription a while ago, but it's still dirt cheap. Esquire is one of those consumer books that makes its money not from circulation but from advertising. I understand that model, though I've been criticized in the past by people who didn't know there was another model. Really, I think publishers should pursue whichever model – or a hybrid of the two – works for them.

And ultimately, that's the angle that interested me the most about Granger's PubExec column. Because, after praising entanglement and silly "augmented reality" gimmicks, he points out that it's not just a one-way street, of print endlessly hemorrhaging advertising and readers to its online "competitors." The two can be symbiotic in numerous ways, including the ability of digital to increase the sales of print subscriptions. "Simply," he says, "subs sold on the Web are cheaper to acquire, and you can charge more for them. "Beautiful," indeed.
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