The Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, and now Barnes & Noble’s nook—these are just a few of the e-readers that will supposedly transform how people will read magazines, newspapers and books in the near future. And with more e-readers from companies such as PlasticLogic and Spring Design on the way, this brings into light the question of how digital magazines will factor into the equation.

A significant number of print publishers have expressed over the years that they haven’t found a compelling reason to utilize digital editions beyond providing customers with an electronic replica of the print magazine. Others, however, have seen the potential in them and have been working with vendors (as well as in-house) to make them interactive and comprehensive.

But now that mobile devices like smartphones and e-readers are on the scene, are digital magazines in the traditional sense even necessary? Stephen Tippie, VP, licensing & new markets development, Tribune Media Services, doesn’t think one technology will cancel out the other.

“It’s an interesting question because it involves defining how magazines and newspapers are read,” he told DEI. “Books are primarily text and are read from start to finish, but magazines are different. They’re not made to be read from start to finish and then there are some key design issues. Each magazine has its own look and feel. With digital magazines, they’re mostly made to look and exactly like the print magazine.”

Unlike digital magazines, e-readers, according to Tippie, don’t provide much flexibility, but more of a linear experience where one article comes after the next. After downloading an edition of the UK newspaper The Independent on his Kindle, Tippie said he was confused by an article that, to him, seemed like it should have been the sidebar instead. “It wasn’t until I scrolled down that I realized I was reading the sidebar of the article and that the main article came after,” he said.

There are ways around that issue, however, and Conde Nast may have found it. The company has developed its own reader technology to view full issues of magazines (complete with text, photos, ads, etc.) on Apple’s iPhone, and will test launch the December issue of GQ mid-November in the App Store.

Users will be able to view the magazine horizontally as well as vertically, and extra functionality includes video, audio, and hotlinks to external Web sites. The horizontal mode is a key format because it qualifies the issue as a digital replica per ABC guidelines. “This gives publishers another option of how to present their content,” Tippie said. “And if Apple releases the color tablet reader that everyone’s been talking about, that would be yet another way of enabling publishers to provide exact reproduction.”

What E-Readers Mean to B-to-B Publications

Another aspect of the e-reader conversation that hasn’t had much attention is how b-to-b publishers will be able to participate. Michael Muscat, publishing manager of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, which offers its 80,000 members two bimonthly publications plus one monthly that are provided digitally (via Nxtbook) as well as in print, said e-readers may not be the best option for his readers.

“Our membership is typically aged 45 and not always tech-savvy," he told DEI. “We’ll be undertaking some surveys in the near future to determine how many members are interacting (or would interact) with our clinical and research content using mobile devices, but right now we suspect the number is small. It’s bound to grow, of course, but there are some logistical hurdles in their way: Some hospitals don’t permit nurses to use mobile devices when they’re on the clock because they seem to interfere with sensitive life-sustaining equipment.”

And for the few nurses that may have e-readers at home, Muscat said he doesn’t think they would want to use them to access trade pubs. “Our readers are hardworking nurses that are busy when they get home,” he said. “They can’t always keep up with the field on their personal time.”

AACN has looked into Nxtbook’s mobile interface, which allows mobile users to access a text-based version of Nxtbook-powered digital editions. But according to Muscat, it leaves something to be desired. “It ends up looking more like a Web site than a digital edition,” he said.

(According to Nxtbook marketing director Marcus Grimm, an interface for Kindle is on the way.)

Although he definitely sees growth for mobile devices in the future, Muscat added that he’s not sure whether they’ll replace the digital editions his company is offering right now. “Based on what I’ve observed, people like an all-of-the-above approach,” he said. “People have different reasons for interacting with content they want to read in different ways at different times of the day.”