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As a Futurist, I Was Wrong

It didn't take five years for e-paper to get here—it took three.


Bob Sacks By Bob Sacks
02/15/2008 -16:34 PM






As some FOLIO: readers may know, I am a principal partner in mediaIDEAS, a consulting firm that investigates and provides original research reports with actionable advice and analysis for the publishing/media industry. I have asked for and received permission from mediaIDEAS to reveal a small portion of a recent research paper whose conclusion after a detailed analysis was that full color flexible e-paper display will be available to the market by 2011.

The report goes on to say that "publishing magazines and books incorporating high quality color artwork such as those involved in the fashion/design/art sectors, and looking to develop digital editions, need to carefully monitor developments in electrowetting display technology ... Planning for this event is critical to the future profitability, and even the existence, of such publishing companies."

The reason I asked for permission from my business partners to release this portion of our Call to Action is that I believe it is critical for our industry to fully comprehend the technologic reality on our door step. We are on the threshold of a new digital age. As publishers we can adapt and prosper or wither on the vine of antiquated protectionism and dysfunction.

In 2005 I debated Samir Husni at Primex hosted by IDEAlliance in an event entitled "Fork in the Road: Which Direction for the Publishing Industry?" After the debate I was asked an excellent question from the audience: How long until publishers have to start really paying attention and worrying about e-paper? My answer was that five years from that time epaper will be real, functional and a necessary item on any publishers business plan and watch list.

As a futurist with an impressive track record of prescient predictions under my belt for the last 35 years, I am sad to report to you that I was wrong. Yes, wrong. It didn't take five years but rather three years for e-paper to be available to the general public. And the technology is growing at an exponential rate. Look around you and read the writing on your Kindle, which is currently sold out and backlogged. E-paper is here and it is not going to go away. The report from mediaIdeas and my own research is correct. Publishers must be ... planning for this event as it is critical to the future profitability, and even the existence, of such publishing companies.

This is not and should not be a fearful transition. Everything stays the same except the actual reading platform. The paginated (metered), well designed, and edited magazine experience is the same. The same writers, editors, artists, and mostly the same publishing staff will be required to "manufacture" magazines of the future. I would also add that it is not an either/or scenario. There will no doubt be both a printed version of magazines and an e-paper version available to the general public. The question will come down to one of cost and reader preference.

I recently completed a review of the Amazon Kindle. As an experienced e-paper reader, the future is clear and the current arguments about the future of e-paper are as relevant as the old discussion of whether or not film-based printing will ever be replaced by CTP (Computer-to-Plate). I'm sure we all agree that was indeed a very juvenile argument. As much as this sounds like bravado, I was right then and I'm right now. I will go further to say that someday, perhaps less than 10 years from now, the e-reading experience will be more preferred by the majority of the reading public than the inefficient, costly, environmentally unfriendly, and extremely dated current magazine methodology. Are we there yet? NO! But you can bet your bottom dollar that we will get there. And if you don't believe and prepare for it, it will be your bottom dollar.

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