What Does Esquire's E Ink Cover Mean for Print Publishing?

I’ve been noodling on the implications of Esquire’s E Ink cover (video available here), and for the life of me I can’t see how this is anything more than a small change in a mature technology. It’s on par with terrestrial radio’s embrace of HD Radio and the music industry’s attempts at super-high-fidelity discs (SACD and DVD-A).

Esquire deserves credit for experimenting with E Ink, and I certainly think E Ink itself has a variety of uses (Kindle and Sony Reader owners would agree). But the merging of E Ink displays and traditional print formats garners the same level of interest as National Geographic’s hologram covers: neat idea … nice execution … but beyond the publicity and potential newsstand sales, what’s the long-term point?

Future E Ink screens are projected to be ultra-light, interactive and updateable via Web connections (the Kindle offers a variation on this), but millions of consumers already own mobile devices with the same functionality. Even if these features come to pass, why would I purchase a print-digital hybrid or a separate digital-only device when I have easy access to content on a device I already own?

Bolting digital elements onto an analog medium may yield new ideas — and there’s value in that — but there’s something to be said for adaptation within a format. Radio has survived by adapting its content. Television, newspapers and magazines are in the midst of their own adaptations, and what these formats become will be influenced by the content they deliver, not the technological add-ons they incorporate. E Ink may someday emerge as a vital aspect of print material, but only when it furthers the essential elements of storytelling, information delivery and clear consumer value.

What’s your take? Do you see opportunities in the merging of E Ink and print material? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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