Esquire Magazine has just released an I-Pod application that has some of the best functionality I've seen in terms of magazine content moving to digital. (watch the vid above). Even the advertising is integrated well, allowing you to click a link and watch commercials for the products featured.
Here's where it gets interesting. The price for the app is $2.99. The price of the print copy is 3.99. So you're getting higher functionality, interactivity and bonuses (this month's "issue" also includes a cover gallery and a video of Kate Beckinsale giving you plenty of reasons to hate Len Wiseman).
I went to the I-Tunes store and picked up my copy (I fly a lot and I hate planes, so this kind of thing, along with single malt scotch and James Bond soundtracks increases the quality of my life), but I didn't see anything allowing one to purchase a "digital subscription".
But we know that's coming.
With the Apple Tablet most likely getting a reveal next week (and Apple has already spoken with Hearst Publications), clearly this is going to become a paradigm. What's more interesting about the potential of the "Tablet Editions" of magazines is going to be the easy commerce possibilities.
Say you read a review of an album while you're waiting for your flight. Click a tab in the Esquire Mag. Get sent to I-Tunes. Buy it. Have the tracks on your tablet before the plane takes off. You can already do this in more steps with the existing tech, but I think this is going to become standard commerce.
Now, suddenly reviews might have more power because they can lead to impulse purchasing. That could have a lot of impact the world of professional criticism, namely making it matter again.
What's even more interesting is how blogs (like the one you're reading) could easily make the transition to a subscription format with the addition of video content, lengthier commentary etc. Before there would be the issue of printing and distribution, but going digital to digital makes this simply an issue of plugging content into a format.
In this case, that format is an engine called Iceberg Reader.
Now here's where it gets sexy. If an individual could get a hold of Iceberg Reader (or a viable equivalent) then what's stopping them from by passing the blogosphere altogether and self-publishing their own digital magazine for I-Tunes. With an HD camera and any word processing program, you're essentially the editor in chief of your own publication.
That you can now sell.
In 2010, we are all Hugh Hefner and Anna Wintour and the big winners are the software developers selling the tools to make our EIC dreams come true.
That's the danger I see for the establishment in the mass adoption of the digital format. Because of the costs of printing and manually distributing printed content, it just was too expensive for most people to get into the publishing game...but the more people embrace a digital platform to read and view images, the more democratic everything gets.
And that's just supply side thinking. Now imagine what happens when "Joe Smith's Magazine" gets enough subscribers to justify purchasing advertising space. Now Joe Smith might literally be competing with Hearst Publications for ad dollars and he might win, because he needs less money to make profit and will sell "space" inside his "magazine" at a fraction of the cost.
And I'll be damned if something doesn't look legitimate when it has corporate advertising.
Self-Publication will quickly lose the stigma of "it wasn't good enough to get a corporation to buy it so I did it myself" and turn into "Why should I split my profits with a corporation when I can just digitally distribute my material, my way, with no interference on the content."
Now of course, this still takes vision, an eye for editorial and a sense for a market and how to grow it. Paint and canvas are cheap too, but there aren't many Rockwells around to balloon the market.
I'm no economist, and I'm sure Big Publishing has thought about this future and is taking steps to avoid it...but on the other hand, maybe they're not. I would have thought Big Music would have seen piracy coming and had a better plan than leveling the occasional splashy lawsuit against a child or a senior citizen.
In any case, the Esquire application is pretty cool if you're a men's magazine junkie like myself and it's only 2.99 so if you're curious, I can endorse it.
Personally, I think they need to hook up with Johnnie Walker and provide a free download code for an issue with the purchase of a mid-sized bottle of Black or Blue. I love the world of digital purchasing.
Against popular wisdom, I like to spend all my money in one place.