Be careful what you wish for
Over the weekend, I came across two interconnected blog posts themed to the launch of Apple’s iPad device.
In the first, Kevin Kelleher claims that “Books are becoming fringe media”. He cites the National Education Association and some anecdotal evidence of a decline in reading (okay, not the strongest research), but he makes a point that some others have missed. The device will support a lot of other uses, as well, meaning that books on the iPad will directly compete for share of mind with a wide range of other applications.
Of course, books already do compete with these alternate forms of entertainment; the iPad just makes that even more explicit. Maybe the word “niche” works better than “fringe” here.
For magazines, Colin Crawford raises a parallel concern: new platform, new rules. At length, he describes how the iPad will push periodical publishers to start measuring and reporting on aspects of reader engagement that they have been able to avoid in print. Measurement will probably be a boon to some, but it could well be the bane of many.
These aren’t arguments to fear the device or resist its clarion call. They do point out, though, that devices (even shiny new ones) won’t save publishing, and as they gain greater acceptance, the new medium won’t operate just like the old. Publishers of both books and magazines need to prepare for those changes.
Edited February 24 to add: Adam Hodgkin of Exact Editions contributes a convincing argument for better use of new platforms.