True potential of ebooks yet to be realized

Could ereaders actually save books and magazines? The answer lies in making the most of the format's potential.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

I spent a big chunk of Monday this week on an regional jet in sardine class. I have a seminar to present at tomorrow, so I spent much of my downtime (consider the irony of that statement, given that I was flying) going through my notes, which were jotted down on a paper version of my presentation. (Some habits never die.) Later, I turned on my Kindle to read a few pages of "New York: The Novel," which is my current guilty pleasure. And the moment I've been dreading for a while arrived: When my plane started its descent, the flight attendant told me I had to turn off my book.


So, on my way back home tomorrow night, I'll be sure to grab a magazine so that I can distract myself during takeoff and landing since it seems flight attendants are becoming more savvy.

Don't get me wrong, I love print. It's the whole reason I got involved in journalism although I haven't seen a print version of one of my own articles in months, unless I've decided to print it out for some reason or another. I have a stack of books at home to read, although I'm getting less tolerant of carrying things around with me, now that airport security has become even more annoying than it was before.

Many people like to say that print is dying, but right now at least, it gets certain jobs done way better than the e-reader format, especially in the visual sense. My guilty pleasures in print at People magazine and Entertainment Weekly, because sometime my brain just needs a serious rest. The power of print to transport someone elsewhere is a central theme of a new campaign of several powerhouse publishing companies including Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith and Wenner Media. "Magazines are the most cost effective and consistent medium at both ends of the purchase funnel," claims Cathie Black, president of Hearst, in the press release for the campaign.

This may be true right now, but not when publishers figure out how to make the most of ebook technology. Right now, some of the conversions from print to electronic are downright primitive (scans of the actual products themselves), but this article from the Harvard Business Review suggests that publishers are finally starting to figure out how to make the most of the ebook format.

Consider, for example, that a manual for a new product could include videos demonstrating how to use it. Links could be made live, so concepts mentioned in a book could be explored more deeply or a song that is mentioned in the text could be played. Digital footnotes, if you will, would go far beyond simple annotations. A historical novel like New York could be "read" in an entirely different way.

Many people believe that the Apple iPad, with its touch interface and practical screen size, will have a major impact on the ebook category and digital magazines. Of course, the product isn't even out yet so that's a really irresponsible prediction to make.

In my mind, ebooks will be one way to revive the classics for a new generation of readers who maybe can't relate to the linear nature of "Catcher in the Rye," but COULD get lost in a more interactive version that seems more like a video game or a social network encounter. I'm not saying I would like this approach to my beloved Jane Austen, but then again, I read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" with few regrets.

Better yet, think about the potential of ebooks to reach communities, children and schools where financial considerations or environmental realities make libraries or textbook investments a tough proposition. Ebooks could inspire a revolution in education, especially when the technology makes better accommodations for the visually impaired.

To be fair, the powerhouse magazine publishers singing the praises of print are also recognizing the power of the Internet in their campaign. I know this is blasphemy, but one has to wonder if all that money being spent to save print advertising wouldn't be better invested in meaningful redevelopment of magazine content focused on a next generation of ebooks and ereaders.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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