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Advertising is Not the Future of Reading February 11, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.

Here I go again.  I want to stay away from this discussion, yet I believe strongly in the concept of reading.  This is one of the most provocative, yet deeply flawed, tomes on the future of publishing.  I give Josh Quittner of Fortune loads of credit for trying.  He calls it The Future of Reading.  I hope not.  I fear that I am a bit less positive than he about the future of the existing publishers than he is.  Here’s why.

First, he clearly remains locked into the notion that advertising supports the business.  That is precisely the thinking that has kept traditional publishing locked into its old business models.  The thinking goes: We need pages, and we need ads to place on the pages.  While advertising is likely to play a role in future media, it is definitely not the traditional “ad on a page” or “banner ad” type of role.  Quittner is talking about the value of the iPad say it’s about ads that are in-your-face, taking up an entire page for a set period of time.  I would tolerate that once.  Maybe.  And never come back.

Second, he believes that the tablet is the savior of the publishing model.  Wrongo.  For several reasons.  The tablet may be a better reading experience than a laptop or netbook, but at best only marginally better.  There is no game-changer here, at least not yet.  Oh, and I always do multiple things when I read; the single-tasking operating system is useless to me, and I suspect most others.

Last, it is years late to save traditional publishing.  Josh notes that publishers have been unwilling to look at new business models because the existing one has been so lucrative.  Well, it’s not lucrative.  It tends to throw off a lot of cash, yes.  Management has done so by devaluing the product that they sell, content, and by not investing in the future.  That’s not the same as being lucrative.  This game is history.

I confess that I don’t know the answer for the next generation of publishing.  I’m not smart enough, and I haven’t spent enough time thinking about it.  But I do know that most of the half-hearted efforts being made today represent at best an extension of old thinking.  Quittner says that publishing people aren’t stupid.  I’ll agree with that, but nor do they have anything resembling an imagination.

At the same time, CNN Money also ran a related piece on what ten well-known people involved in publishing and/or the Web thought about the future of reading.  The one I laughed out loud on was Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the Washington Post, who had the audacity to claim that advertising was content.  The most interesting came from Marc Andreessen.  My take is similar to that of Jeff Jarvis.  To at least some extent, they are all worth reading.



1. Jim Farley - February 11, 2010

Not to take Katharine Weymouth’s side but I remeber buy a magazine called “Computer Shopper” (sorta back before the Web) and I bought that magazine not for the articles but for the ads. I was able to learn alot about the early pc hardware marketplace just by looking at the ads.

I also see that our society has come to expect our content to be multimeda based. Less of us read straight books or newspapers, preferring to get our content from the web or tv which streams it to us in text, sound and video. We come to expect advertising with that kind of content, heck we watch the superbowl for the ads sometimes.

I do see reading moving to another type of device. I read regually on my Microsoft Windows Mobile phone, others are moving to a Kindle or Kindle like device. The issue that we should be focusing on is how much we are exepected to carry with us. A phone, a laptop, a reader, I carry around a bag just to hold the different devices I need to get content and of course the associated chargers I need to keep them going,

I don’t think the Ipad is the answer but I do think its going in the right direction. I need a device that is not too big but can do everything I need, reading, email, web and the like. A central clearing house for pay for content would be nice, say your povider but advertising is the pay per site model for that content today.

pvarhol - February 11, 2010

Yes, and Computer Shopper went out of business a decade ago. I think you’ve just supported my point. The models of yesterday won’t work for today and in the future.

Regarding reading, email, the web, and the like, it’s called a netbook. I say that reluctantly, because I don’t think it’s a very good answer, but it’s better than the iPad is today (of course, the iPad isn’t today any answer today, because it won’t be shipping for another couple of months). I just can’t get past it’s single-tasking operating system and lack of a camera.

2. Josh Quittner - February 12, 2010

Hi–I’ll let my article speak for itself on the other points you raise. But one thing I’d like to clarify: I don’t think you’ll be forced to look at ads—indeed, my point was that, with a full page and the ability to do *interactive* video much, much faster than you could on the Web, advertisers will have a better canvas to pull you in. Obviously, this is all “unicorn land” now—we won’t know for a while. But I don’t think you’ll be forced to watch ads, the way some websites do it these days. At least, I hope not. Cheers—JQ

pvarhol - February 12, 2010

Hey Josh – Thanks for the clarification there. I apologize if I misrepresented you.

3. 2010 in review « Cutting Edge Computing - January 9, 2011

[…] Advertising is Not the Future of Reading February 2010 4 comments […]

4. 2010 in review | World's Greatest T-Shirt - January 13, 2011

[…] Advertising is Not the Future of Reading February 2010 4 comments […]

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