When The New York Times reported on March 1st that Condé Nast was creating five magazines in iPad format, one group in Larchmont had already heard the back story.
The day before, on February 28, about eighty people packed a lecture hall at the Larchmont Temple for a Friends of the Larchmont Library talk by Peter Kaplan. A Larchmont resident and the editor of New York Observer’s salmon-color pages for fifteen years, Mr. Kaplan is now editorial creative director of Condé Nast Traveler.
Addressing the question, “Is Print Journalism Dead?” Mr. Kaplan described how he is involved with the digital magazines Condé Nast is gearing for Apple’s new iPad and similar devices under development by Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others.
It is these wireless electronic tablets – or other innovations – that Mr. Kaplan believes will keep journalism alive.
“I’m of the opinion that the greatness of American technology will rescue the news industry,” Mr. Kaplan said. “The industry will not only survive, it will be significantly healthier in ten years.
Technology Miracles and Pile-Ups
Mr. Kaplan’s optimism is based in part on a historical perspective.
He recounted for the audience the periodic ups and downs print journalism has experienced due to economic cycles and technological innovation.
Better, cheaper printing presses have meant faster, better distribution and an improved product, he said. But daily newspapers have come under threat from competing papers and new media, like radio, television and even the weekly news magazine.
The internet is only the most recent technology to befriend and beset journalism, Mr. Kaplan suggested.
The Internet Is Not a Reading Experience
“In many ways the internet is a boon to American democracy in its ability to provide instant information and images around the world,” said Mr. Kaplan. “However, it destroyed the news economy and created an incredible ADHD culture of skimming the top off a story and moving on to the next things that entertain you.”
In Mr. Kaplan’s view, the current online environment is bad for both the content and business side of journalism.
“It’s not a reading experience,” Mr. Kaplan said of the internet. “It’s something else. It’s not an advertising experience, either.”
Americans Love Information
So now with the double-threat of the internet and the weakest economy since the Depression, how bleak is the forecast for newspapers and magazines?
Mr. Kaplan seemed surprisingly upbeat.
“They’ve gone through tremendous surges and collapses in the last hundred years and always comeback,” he said, “because Americans love information and do not mind paying for it.”
Even though readers have become accustomed to everything free online, Mr. Kaplan believes they will pay if the information “matches their high expectations, or gives them something they haven’t had before.”
The IPad Will Deliver
That something, Mr. Kaplan believes, will be delivered by the iPad, the portable wireless device Apple is bringing to market later this month. Weighing 1.5 pounds and only half an inch thick, the tablet measures 9.56” by 7.47” and will fit in a woman’s purse or a man’s pocket. Mr. Kaplan predicted everyone will have one by next year and it will become an essential part of people’s lives.
While the iPad will allow for browsing the web, playing games and managing email and photos, what distinguishes it – in Mr. Kaplan’s view – is the superior e-reading experience it will provide.
It supports all sorts of multi-media wizardry, related videos and interactivity – a flick of a finger can open a car door in an ad – but it also replicates the intimate experience of magazine reading, said Mr. Kaplan.
“I’m at work with Condé Nast creating a digital magazine that is so exciting, it’s better than anything I could imagine in print,” said Mr. Kaplan. Further, “It will give us a return to depth of reporting, and design, and integrity.”
Readers will be able to purchase magazines and newspaper at iNewsstands. It’s been reported that Hearst Corporation, Time, Inc., and Condé Nast have formed a joint content delivery venture for over fifty magazines.
New Reading and Advertising Age
Mr. Kaplan said the industry is banking on the iPad being a magnet for advertisers, drawn by the creativity made possible by the technology.
“It’s not just editorial, but also the creativity of advertising that makes a complete structure of what the economy is,” said Mr. Kaplan. “New technology will call upon that same kind of tremendous exhilaration for the private sector. I think advertisers will pay for those ads.”
Technology as Savior – With a Bit of Luck Thrown In
As enthusiastic as Mr. Kaplan is about the iPad and a new age for journalism, when asked from the audience if this device could be counted on to re-invent the industry, he paused and knocked on the wood podium.
“There are no guarantees,” he said. But I really believe we’re on the precipice of something great.”
Katherine Ann Samon is the Larchmont Gazette Business Editor. More about her at www.katherineannsamon.com