Monday, July 21, 2008

E-Ink to debut on the cover of Esquire magazine

E-Ink has been hailed as the next big thing for in-store displays for a while. Well, over a decade, which is more like "a really long, long, long while" in technology terms. While we've seen it used in some POS displays here and there (and Digital View has announced a more streamlined offering based on the technology), its low resolution and limited ability to display colors has somewhat limited its appeal to in-store marketers.

But there's at least one place where we might start to see it making a splash in the not-too-distant future. Magazine covers. If you're not already overwhelmed with the rows of zillions of magazines on display at your local Barnes & Noble, imagine what it might look like if they were all blinking, rotating, and otherwise actively seeking to catch your attention. Sound crazy? Yeah, you're right, it does. But media conglomerate Hearst, owners of Esquire magazine (and others), and a shareholder of E Ink, doesn't seem to think so. In fact, according to this New York Times article they expect to have an electronic cover on Esquire as soon as 2009 -- that's next year, for those of you not keeping track:

“Magazines have basically looked the same for 150 years,” [David Granger, Esquire’s editor in chief] said. “I have been frustrated with the lack of forward movement in the magazine industry.”

Pointing to the prototype sitting on a conference room table, Mr. Granger said, “The possibilities of print have just begun. In two years, I hope this looks like cellphones did in 1982, or car phones.”

Esquire has exclusive use of E Ink’s technology for use in print through 2009, and Mr. Granger said he hopes to come up with new ideas for it. “This is probably just a limited view of its use,” he said.

The electronic cover will be used in only 100,000 copies that go to newsstands — its overall circulation is about 720,000.

This version is definitely meant to be more of a technology, business and marketing test than full-scale implementation, since the logistics involved in making the project work are considerable:

Digital technology holds the promise of making the dissemination of information much easier and cheaper — no paper, no trucks — but this experiment by Esquire was the opposite.

“The whole chain had to be reinvented,” said Peter Griffin, the deputy editor. “The interesting thing is it has almost nothing to do with the normal way of putting out a magazine.”

First Esquire had to make a six-figure investment to hire an engineer in China to develop a battery small enough to be inserted in the magazine cover. The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China. They are shipped to Texas and on to Mexico, where the device is inserted by hand into each magazine. The issues will then be shipped via trucks, which will be refrigerated to preserve the batteries, to the magazine’s distributor in Glazer, Ky.

“We are trying to combine a 21st-century technology with a 19th-century manufacturing process,” Mr. Granger said.

All of this, of course, is expensive. Which is why it was necessary for Esquire to find a sponsor. In stepped Ford Motor, which will have an advertisement on the inside of the cover that will use the same technology to promote its new minivan-sport utility vehicle, the Flex.“We wanted the marketing plan for this vehicle to include motion as much as possible,” said Usha Raghavachari, communications manager for S.U.V.’s for Ford North America Marketing. “We had a desire to make our marketing launch as unique as the vehicle. This makes our print plan a little more energizing.”

So we may have a bit more time before literally everything becomes a digital billboard (for better or, probably, worse). But if there's already an advertising-based model that makes digital magazine covers plausible (on a reasonably large scale, no less), it's only a matter of time before production volumes go up, related costs come down, and the medium becomes accessible to a much larger range of publishers and advertisers. That brings up a whole new point. If it's a digital magazine cover that you're buying ads on, are you buying print? Are you buying digital? Or is it a whole new medium you're buying?

Or is that just a matter of semantics?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow.! Period then exclamation mark because its quite the revolution! Its about time that companies endure a bit of a twist in their representation, its not often we get to see something like this but hey it'll be worth the production! Whether people think it to be unique or not, Im my own individual and nothing will get in the way of my vision!