Magazines, Multimedia — May 6, 2013 at 3:17 am

Flipboard save newspapers?

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The simple digital application Flipboard breaths new life into magazines by improving navigation.
Flipboard breaths new life into magazines by improving navigation and readability.

Can Flipboard save traditional print magazines and newspapers from extinction? The tablet application is reviving a genre Wall Street left for dead.

It is true. The print publishing industry is a mess. Failed newspapers. Shuttered magazines. Shrinking book publishers. Tens of thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. With all those job losses, the quality of news content has declined. Today, the equivalent of digital journalistic flash mobs are in control of the Internet. There are few standards. Opinion and hyperbole have replaced facts. It seems that not a day goes by without a fake news event surfacing. Flea infested hotels get five stars. Pigs are rescuing drowning goats.

But Flipboard might help tilt scales back in the other direction – more toward branded, quality content produced by professional journalists. It won’t solve all the problems, but it may be start. The application displays magazine-like pages, allowing users to swipe the pages. There are no clicks, no messy PDF documents or Web pages to load. Users just flip through digital pages. Today, most the content on Flipboard and similar type apps is free. But these apps could evolve into a pay-per-view model to help pay for quality journalistic content.

Former Tellme CEO Mike McCue and iPhone engineer Evan Doll are behind Flipbook. The company recently rolled out version 2.0 of its software. The Palo Alto-based startup raised $60 million from investors.

Of course, the Flipboard app wouldn’t have a platform without the high resolution touch screens created by Apple’s Steve Jobs. Developed first for the iPhone, the screens were enlarged and improved for the 7 X 9 inch iPad. The iPad’s brilliant retina display, wireless antenna and ability to play movies, games and music has made it a huge hit with consumers since first being introduced in 2010. Apple sold 22 million iPads during the first quarter of 2013, meaning it could sell upwards of 100 million units this year.

Until the iPad came along, magazines and newspapers were in serious trouble. Advertising was being siphoned away to Web. Traditional print content was being stolen and republished with publishers receiving little or no revenue in return. As the advertising disappeared, so did the staffs that produced quality journalism. Publishers struggled to make up lost revenue. For every dollar in lost print revenue, a publisher typically collected 10 cents online – hardly a sustainable business model.

Digital apps and tablets could help tilt the balance back in traditional publishers favor. Why? Print publishers still control most the serious journalistic content production. Places like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune employ armies of talented, trained journalists. Tablets provide something else – a fantastic platform for delivering text, graphics, video and audio. Viewing magazine pages on an iPad is actually a much more engaging experience that reading the traditional printed magazine.

Flexible screens will dramatically alter publishing
Flexible screens will dramatically alter publishing

There is only one problem: The iPad isn’t quite a portable as a magazine or a newspaper. But the technology industry is working on solving that problem by developing flexible displays. The displays have been under development for more than a decade and they are getting quite good.

Both Samsung and LG are currently developing curved, flexible screens with touch sensitive capabilities. LG has said it will introduce a mobile phone with a curved screen this year.

These developments, coupled with the popularity of the iPad, Kindle, Nook and apps like Flipboard, indicates consumers are still interested in the printed word. This is a good thing – especially for journalists wishing to practice long-form investigative journalism.

Steve Jobs blazed a new trail with the iPad, a trail that offers a new publishing platform. This might just work – especially if consumers can be convinced to buy well-written and well-reported digital stories the same way they buy songs – one at a time.

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