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The View From the Tree : 34 Tricks Printed Magazines Can Do That Apps Can’t

March 14, 2012 By D. Eadward Tree
It seems like only yesterday when we first heard about iPads and thought they were feminine hygiene devices. Now we in the publishing industry are talking so much about iPads, Nooks, Kindles, and their e-brethren (or is it e-sistren?) that we've lost sight of what ink on paper can do.

Doctors' waiting rooms that used to be bursting with a wide variety of "public place" magazines now sport only a handful of health-related titles. (Diabetes and You? Ooh, hand me that. I need to catch up on my sleep while I wait for the doctor.)

It used to be a big deal when you sold a fancy gatefold package to an advertiser. Now you'll get pushback from some premedia specialist complaining that the piece can't be re-created in this or that electronic format. We have quickly forgotten or overlooked some of the tricks printed magazines can do that have not yet been matched by electronic magazines (or by websites, for that matter).

Sure, electronic editions have their advantages. I've never heard of a Nook edition getting caught in the U.S. Postal Service's FSS (Flats Shredding System) or having out-of-register ads. You can embed sound or video, track click-throughs, count how many people saw an article or ad, and do all kinds of other tricks that would make Gutenberg's head spin.

So, which are better, printed magazines or electronic editions? The answer is the same as Ron Paul's reply to the infamous boxers-or-briefs question: "Depends."

It's like asking whether newsstand copies are better than subscriber copies. Better for what? And why would you choose? Magazine publishers are now living in a both/and world rather than an either/or world (and sometimes it seems like a both-this-and-that-plus-this-and-don't-forget-about-this-and-is-there-an-app-for-that?-world.)

Anyway, here are 34 things (bolded) you can do with printed magazines that you can't do, or do very well, with electronic magazines:

Be 3D: The e-world is flat. At their best, digital editions can sort of replicate belly bands, flaps, tabs, gatefolds, pop-ups, blow-in cards, embossing, and other pieces that make printed magazines a three-dimensional experience. But it's not the same. Even the fanciest iPad app is a two-dimensional medium.


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