Print’s Comeback, Dressed in a Swim Suit

I recently reached the 10th anniversary of my leaving print journalism for the Web and, in reflecting upon some of the personal developments during that decade, I noted with some remorse my separation from one of my childhood loves — my subscription to Sports Illustrated. As a sports junkie and participant, plus a budding sportswriter, SI was my Bible. However, with the proliferation of instant score gratification and sports analysis on the Web, SI’s weekly format and in-depth, albeit well-crafted, prose no longer fit into my what’s-happening-this-millisecond lifestyle.


But, like the ugly high-school duckling who shows up to the reunion as the swan you wish you’d asked to the prom, SI is poised for a dramatic return — more beautiful, hip and engaging than ever.


Vodpod videos no longer available.

C’mon, admit it, if you’re like me, you want this badly. Real badly.

Truthfully, this is the kind of experience I’d been secretly hoping for (but knowing would not materialize) when I turned to the Kindle 2 as a “newspaper savior.” After all, I left The Seattle Times a decade ago mostly for the promise of this kind of dynamic interactivity — imbedded photos that sprang to life with a click (now touch), panoramic views of stadiums and arenas, real-time statistics, easy sharing, and the like. When I was recruited to the original Rivals.com, that was exactly the picture that was painted for me.

Ten years later, many aspects of that picture now exist. My company, ESPN.com, has a killer feature called Gamecast that is available even on mobile devices, via the killer app, Scorecenter. I ordered my season tickets from Sounders FC using the team’s seat perspective, which previewed the view I’d have from various seats at Xbox Pitch. Until now, many of these kinds of features have not been aggregated in one place.

Now all of this, and more, is in something I can hold in my hands — I’ve died and gone back in time 10 years but took today’s technology with me.

No surprise here that it is the magazine industry that is first to breathe life back into “print,” if that’s what we can call the SI Tablet. With its challenges around timeliness, magazines always have focused on bright, bold photography and graphics and summaries, in addition to in-depth reporting and writing. I don’t expect SI and the rest of the Time Inc., stables to skimp on multimedia — particularly, video — the way most daily newspapers have, outside the leaders such as New York Times and Washington Post and a handful of others. The newspaper industry’s too widely held belief that users will tolerate lower standards in exchange for a new content experience is what continues to plung it into irrelevancy.

Besides, most newspapers are too consumed with figuring out how to charge micro-payments for a story to actually develop something like the SI Tablet, for which an impassioned audience likely will spend hundreds to acquire the device, then monthly fees to continue feeding the beast. As my household peanut gallery (my wife) put it, “All that, and the SI swimsuit models.” Or vice versa.

It’s no great revelation that the last decade’s great technological advancements have conferred upon vast numbers of us a bad case of Internet ADD. I guess we should not have been surprised that, given tremendous and ever growing numbers of choices, that we human beings are choosing to sample them all — and often not anything very thoroughly. If content were morsels, then we’re all fat ladies on the couch with boxes of half-eaten chocolates arrayed before us.

I’m of course not privvy to any strategic thinking at Time Inc., but if I were them, I would not offer choices on The Wonder Factory developed tablet. I’d make it a dedicated device for “niche” audiences, sports being such a huge one it defies even being identified as a niche. With Sports Illustrated’s branding — and as long as it slakes our appetite for the ever-fluid commodities such as scores, stats and news that are the lifeblood of sports fandom — I know a lot of us would be willing to settle back into some form of media monogamy.

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Comments

  1. Sorry, but I’m not going to spend “hundreds” on a gizmo like this to read one magazine.
    And if newspapers are so “irrelevant”, how come in almost every city and town in this country, newspaper websites are the market leader in eyeballs?

  2. Here’s another fact that smug “newspapers are dead” geeks like yourself fail to realize: as papers continue to grow traffic on their websites (and it’s growing – just check out the latest numbers at sites like ComScore) and they get better, they’ll eventually monetize them much better. It’s already happening. At many big papers, the revenue from their websites is coming close to funing ALL of their newsroom expenses (LA Times is one example).
    AND, newspapers STILL have another revenue source: it’s called the newspaper. You know, that thing on paper, lots of ink on it, lots of words, lots of original reporting in it that isn’t found anywhere else? Yeah, people still pay for that turns out. Maybe not as much as they once did, but enough.
    So newspapers have TWO good sources of revenue going forward: online and print. Digital geeks have ONE – their geek digital sites.
    So really, it is the Geekdom that is behind the curve when it comes to making money off of content in the New Age.
    Enjoy the ride to irrelevancy, cyber man.

  3. glennnelson says:

    John, I’m sorry this made you so angry. I don’t think even newspaper people would share your rosy outlook on their industry. In case you haven’t noticed, some newspapers have folded and the ones that have not have made massive cuts. None are realizing significant revenue from their websites (the L.A. Times, which has made several workforce cuts, closed sections of its newspaper and raised the price of its newspaper, hardly is covering the cost of its news operations with Web revenue). Advertising, once up, is now down on the Web because of the economy, so the game no longer is “capturing eyeballs.” Of course Web traffic is growing on newspaper sites; who wouldn’t want to leach off the expensive efforts of a dwindling number of hard-working professionals?

    I doubt I’ll convince you of anything, but I want others to know that I do NOT want newspapers and magazines to fail. I have been sounding the alarm (and doing so for 10 years) because I want them all to wake up. I spent nearly 20 years in the print industry. I have friends who are out of work and scared. And I love print products. I subscribe to two newspapers and dozens of other periodicals. But my love of a product does not obscure my understanding that their presence is much endangered.

  4. For people who actually love magazines, the iTab (or whatever device takes prominence) is a godsend. Is it going to convert the pure web addicts who decided print was irrelevant 10 years ago? No. But I would love a device that gave me the full National Geographic experience, or Wired, or The Economist, or New York, without the stacks of pages in my apartment or weighing down my bookbag.

    But for people who actually love carefully edited information and sumptuous packaging (the best) magazines are known for, the SI demo is absolutely stunning. It’s the first real hint at what’s possible in an environment where you can combine the speed of digital delivery, portability to read on the toilet/bed/couch/bus/whatever, and retains the awesome design and presentation of the best magazines out there.

    On the business end, it will eliminate the costs of paper and distribution — by far the highest cost of producing magazines. It’s not staff or creating content that eats up revenue. It’s putting that darn stuff on paper and shipping it around the country/world.

  5. glennnelson says:

    Mike, you raise good points about production. I think John’s concerns about cost will be assuaged over time. As technology and economies of scale improve, the cost of these devices will go down. I’m only saying about myself, Sagittarius that I am, that I would spend a few hundred to be one of the first to get these. I also slightly misspoke (mis-wrote?) in suggesting that the tablet should be dedicated to a single magazine. I meant that I would not have browsing capabilities. One of the challenges of websites today is keeping people on site. I think we users are too ADD and therefore to quick to click. The tablet looks to provide such a thorough and satisfying experience, one should not play into the desire to click away.

  6. Franco Tirado says:

    Cant wait to have this baby tablet so I can take it to the desert or suntan by the beach reading it…Dammit sand just fell of it and then some water… Now I cant read a darn thing… How much it will cost me to fix it??
    Or “hey I went and took a dip in the warm blue ocean and in less than 10 seconds some local or tourist walked away with my tablet. I need a real magazine..”
    Where is a real magazine to carry on my backpack?????
    Ok after spending 4 hours looking at a computer screen who REALLY wants to read a tablet before going to bed? Really no me.

  7. “If content were morsels, then we’re all fat ladies on the couch with boxes of half-eaten chocolates arrayed before us.”
    Nope..you’re all just obese males playing with your remotes…

  8. glennnelson says:

    Mary, point taken. Being a guy I struggled with a male image for what I was writing. I’m not big on watching TV and, in my household, am not the one who controls the remote. 🙂

  9. Glenn,
    You said the LA Times is “hardly covering the costs” of its newsroom with online revenue.
    Sorry to prove you wrong:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/12/la-times-online-advertising

    Yeah, you’ll say “it’s because they cut their staff.” Fine, but that wasn’t my original point. And the other point that I made, that as revenue gets bigger at newspaper website – as it should because they are the market leaders in CONSISTENT daily traffic for what they provide – then the overall stability of their enterprises will finally level off again.
    And, lots of newspapers folded before the Internet. A couple have in the last year – Seattle and Denver. That’s a shame and I appreciate your concern for the overall industry. But there were other “problems” at the papers that folded than just lack of readership.
    And, you didn’t make me mad at all. I just chuckle when I read all you doomsayers about the newspaper business. I would worry more about the surivability of fad blogs and websites like this one.

  10. glennnelson says:

    John, of course you are upset. You otherwise wouldn’t end your posts with insults. There is no advertising or other revenue generators on this blog. This is my hobby and it will continue to “survive” as long as my interest and time holds.

    And, yes, of course I’d say the L.A. didn’t just cut its staff, it diminished its product. Most businesses can play the same game — cut expenses until revenues exceed them.

    Also, Seattle and Denver aren’t the only cities with newspaper closures the past few years. But we’re getting way off point. How do you propose that daily newspaper websites improve revenue? The part of the game of aggregating eyeballs that pays off (national advertising and sponsorships) is beyond any single newspaper. The chain model is failing. I’m not saying newspaper sites won’t ever make money, but there’s no proven model — and you are not citing one, at least not a feasible one.

  11. ho hum…

    what about this is so great?

    really? how is this sooooo incredibly better than what I get for free NOW on the Internet — with a free web browser?

    that I can shift the pages around and zoom in and out really neat? um, hate to break it to you, but that aint worth paying hundreds of dollars for.

    and, the “video” that is shown at the beginning is kind of cool.. but, I can already watch the actual game itself LIVE in HD for free (on a larger screen)

    so, aside from a few little do-dads (that are hardly worth hundreds of dollars) I dont see this taking off…

    sorry

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