Monday, 25 June 2007

Print Media vs Digital - Another Take

Just a quickie, but while I was reviewing the third issue of Sci-Fi Now when I had a small revelation about the impending doom of printed media and the rise of the web and all things digital.

The news section of that magazine is divided into various areas of interest, TV, movies, comics, cons, specific TV shows, etc. Now while the printed news is almost always out of date before it hits the shelves, reading Sci-Fi Now I found myself picking up tidbits of info about media I'm only peripherally interested in and wouldn't normally have bothered with. Wonder of wonders it's pretty fascinating stuff.

Now I didn't pick up anything new about areas I'm already tracking, Lost, BSG, etc. I get all that from my RSS subscriptions.

The revelation was this; my RSS feeds and my bookmarks are maybe a little too specific. I can zero in, with perhaps too much accuracy, on my areas of interest and tend to miss the tangential stuff. Sure it sometimes pops up on a page or a feed I'm reading, but I can rarely be bothered to click on the articles and read further. Whereas in a magazine that I've already bought, that I'm already reading, I will take the time to look a little over my horizons.

Though if the same information is only a click away on the web, why would I be more willing to read it in a magazine ? Most people would read this sort of information as part of their leisure time and there's an awful lot that can happen between that click and the reader actually getting the information they want. There could be a problem on the server, the reader's connection might be slow or have more serious issues, the browser may crash or any one of thousands of problems might stop the would be reader from getting the goods. Most of the potential audience will be under some sort of time pressure, it's a lunch break, they've got ten minutes before they have to get to work, or feed the kids, something is making demands on their time. Pressing that button and making that click is a bit of a gamble (in terms of time), they don't know if they're gonna get to the article or how long they'll have to wait and they don't even know if they're going to be interested in it anyway. Far better to gamble their precious time on going for material that they know they'll be interested in.

It's totally different with a printed magazine though. They've already invested, not just time but money as well, and the information's already there. They're much more likely to read it.

The online world could respond to this though. Back in the mid-90s a few flirtations were made with "push" technology, whereby the data would be delivered to the readers for them to peruse at their leisure. In the dark days of dial-up this wasn't really an option for most users and when the same thing was tried with WAP it didn't really work out there either. The reason being that in both scenarios the subscriber was paying, in the form of telephone bills, to have the data sent to them, it was also tying up their bandwidth when at those speeds every bit was precious. Broadband has removed the bandwidth problem but as most users are under some sort of data cap from their ISP they are again paying for every bit they receive whether they want it or not. This leads me to think that maybe net neutrality has a few pitfalls, because with QoS packet marking the cost of the data transferred could be factored into the reader's subscription price.

Let's say a reader spends £50 on an annual subscription to a digital magazine, it's a multimedia affair so let's say each issue takes up 250MB or so. Most domestic users will have data caps of around 10GB or so imposed on them by their ISP, obviously there's a whole raft of packages, but let's say on average 10GB. Now that 250MB, small though it may be, is still a chunk of that 10GB, and the reader has paid for it in addition to their actual subscription. Though with packet marking the magazine publishers, or distributors, could pick up the tab for the delivery. The ISP wouldn't count that download against the reader's quota. Economically it would work in much the same way paper subscriptions do now where the cost of mailing the magazine is part of the price.

That scenario is a long way off. It'd require cooperation on and ratification of standards between the distributors, the carriers and the ISPs. Given the amount of hostility there is towards moving away from net neutrality I'd say five years or so before such a system becomes viable.

In the meantime I'll just turn the page and have my horizons broadened a little further.