One would hope that, after the much publicised issues that the music industry experienced whilst grappling with digital music distribution, other digital content producers would avoid making the same mistakes. Apparently that’s not so – at least not if the publishing industry is anything to go by.
I love books. Real books. Dead tree editions full of glorious photographs. I’ll even pay good money for them. But, for magazines and run-of-the-mill text content, I’m increasingly looking towards digital media.
Take, for example, a well-known personal computing magazine – PC Pro. Last week I was convinced that subscribing to the magazine would be a good idea but I don’t want a paper copy to carry around with me – I have a tablet computer for that – an iPad that, somewhat ironically,Â one of the magazine’sÂ Contributing Editors, Jon Honeyball, convinced me to part with several hundred pounds to buy. Now the fact that it was Jon who “sold” the iPad to me is not really relevant – there are many reasons that was a good purchase and that’s the subject of another blog post – but I would hope that a computer magazine would be at the vanguard of digital publication. Unfortunately not – the answer I got from the magazine’s publishers was that if I wanted a digital copy, I could download an application from Zinio and read it that way.
Er… No thanks. I’ll just hold off on that and PC Pro will pick up one less new subscriber this month.
My problems with this approach to magazine distribution are threefold:
- Apple provides me with iBooks – a perfectly good eBook reader with support for PDF documents and features such as brightness control.
- If I buy a magazine from a shop, I can read it and then recycle it, store it (forever if I choose to), or give it to a friend to read (if they don’t mind getting their news/reviews a few weeks late) but the Zinio approach imposes digital rights management on me (or at least some form of copy control).
- I don’t want another application just to read magazines – not unless its truly innovative and enhances my experience (as the Wired iPad application does by integrating content that’s not available in paper form, such as video).
Then there is newspaper publishing. I don’t buy a newspaper every day but I will read one of the free newspapers on the way to/from work, catch up on the latest news via the ‘net, and either my wife or I buy a newspaper most weekends. Even though my preferred newspaper is The Sunday Times, Murdoch’s paywall means I will not consume their online content because there is plenty of quality content available elsewhere (e.g. The Guardian website and podcasts such as Tech Weekly, or BBC News – either via the web or in their excellent iPad application). I did consider the Financial Times iPad application – and I even tried it whist it was free last month, but it didn’t give me enough to justify a regular subscription. I’m sorry to say that paid newspapers are a dying medium – which is a shame – as the standard of journalism available for free is not up to the same standards but there is just not enough there to convince me that parting with money to subscribe to a newspaper (physical or online) is a worthwhile investment.
Finally, there are books. I’m not talking about coffee-table books here, but about normal books – the sort of thing you might see in WH Smith or Waterstones. I’m completely at a loss as to why the same book costs the same price, regardless of whether I buy a paperback copy or an e-book. Indeed, given that most of the books I buy tend to be on a “buy one, get one half price” or similar offer the digital versions actually cost more – ludicrous given that there are no printing costs, almost no distribution costs, and that the content creator (i.e. the author) gets paid less.
[Update: 6 August 2010 @13:06: My assertion that e-books cost aroundÂ the same as paperbacks was based on Apple's prices - I've since found that Kindle eBooks are available at a substantial discount, just as paper books from Amazon are]
I did actually buy an e-book last weekend: after my half-read copy of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street got soaked during a rainstorm on a camping trip, I downloaded the iBooks version and was soon reading again; but I can’t give it away when I’ve finished. Indeed, because e-books cannot be passed on to a friend or given to the charity shop, they have the potential to decimate the second-hand book trade, which should result in even more first-time sales – in itself a reason why the prices should be lower as book sales increase.
So it seems that publishers – be they magazine, newspaper, or book publishers – are clinging on to a business model that is in decline. I’m sure that we’ll have books on our shelves for many years to come, and printed magazines will survive a while longer (although their days are numbered) but newspapers are already suffering,Â Â photojournalism has pretty much beenÂ killed offÂ (the last NCTJ accredited photojournalismÂ course has only just given a reprieve)., and real journalism (I mean journalism, not bloggers regurgitating press releases) is becoming increasingly endangered.
If only the publishers could learn from the music industry’s mistakes we might see something new, something innovative, something that makes people want to consume their content but, based on what I’ve seen recently, theres little evidence to suggest that they have learned anything.