The Observer / Sunday / 19 December 2010 / John Naughton
If the success of Amazon's Kindle has made print publishers relax, they're in for a nasty surprise.
One of the glories of our print culture is the Economist, a magazine that combines eccentric, neoliberal editorial views with excellent, well-informed reporting. [snip].
In November 2009, I went to a talk given by Andrew Rashbass, CEO of the Economist, about the company's digital strategy. He related how he had commissioned research in a large number of countries into how subscribers in those territories used the publication. [snip].
Under questioning, Rashbass was coy about what his digital strategy involved, but it was clear to all in the room that he was pinning his hopes on what was at the time a purely mythical product, the device that eventually materialised as the Apple iPad.
Almost a year to the day year after Rashbass's talk, the Economist launched its iPad app. It's free, in the sense that anyone can download it. But to get it to download actual content (over and above a few free articles) you have to be an existing print subscriber or take out a digital subscription, ... .
[snip]. The iPad has delivered a genuinely "immersive" reading experience. In part, this is a reflection on the device's screen technology and interface. But it's mainly down to the quality of the app's design.
Coincidentally, another interesting app arrived on my iPad last week. Actually, it's a book in app's clothing. It's David Eagleman's Why the Net Matters (Canongate), an eight-chapter manifesto that seeks to explain the significance of the internet for our future. As with the iPad edition of Stephen Fry's latest book, Eagleman's essay can be read non-sequentially. Each chapter splits the screen. On one side is conventional text. On the other are illustrations, photographs, animations and 3D models that the reader can manipulate. [snip].
These two developments – the Economist's app and Eagleman's "book" – ought to serve as a wake-up call for the print publishing industry. [snip]
[snip]. The concept of a "book" will change under the pressure of iPad-type devices, just as concepts of what constitutes a magazine or a newspaper are already changing. This doesn't mean that paper publications will go away.
But it does mean that print publishers who wish to thrive in the new environment will not just have to learn new tricks but will also have to tool up. [snip].
If they don't do it, then someone else will. There will always be "books". The question now is: will there always be publishers?