Although readers keep shifting to the Internet, Esquire magazine's editor is sure print isn't dying, and he aims to prove it Monday by unveiling a 75th-anniversary issue with a cover that features electronic ink.
"For the last couple of years I've been in search of ways to do something that shows that print is a particularly vital product," said Esquire magazine's editor-in-chief, David Granger. "I really do think that print is the most exciting and rewarding medium there is."
A 10-square-inch display on the cover of Esquire's October 2008 anniversary issue flashes the theme "The 21st Century Begins Now" with a collage of illuminated images. On the inside cover, a two-page spread advertising the new Ford Flex Crossover features a second 10-square-inch display with shifting colors to illustrate the car in motion at night.
The displays, which Granger said have boosted advertising in the issue, were developed by E Ink Corp., a Cambridge, Mass., company that also supplied the electronic paper technology for the screen of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader.
The technology for both products uses micro-capsules of ink that are controlled by an electric charge. Unlike the Kindle, the magazine's display is not linked to a wireless network, so it cannot be updated.
Scott Daly, a Dentsu America Inc. executive who oversees media buying for Canon, Toyota, aigdirect.com and other companies, said the concept is a needed shot in the arm for the newspaper and magazine industry.
"A lot of people will say that there isn't that much excitement in the magazine world, but this proves that there can be," Daly said.
In the first half of 2008, newsstand sales of U.S. magazines fell more than 6 percent, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Meanwhile, the economic slowdown has exacerbated a decline in advertising revenue for newspapers and magazines' print editions. The Publishers Information Bureau reported that magazines had roughly 8 percent fewer ad pages in the second quarter of 2008 than the same period a year earlier.
Ad pages for Esquire, a general-interest magazine targeting higher-income men, were down 5.7 percent in the first half of 2008, according to the Magazine Publishers of America.
Esquire's circulation gained slightly compared with 2007, according to the ABC.
"If we want to keep print vital, print advertising has to be just as vital as print editorial," Granger said.
So far, he said, the electronic display has been a strong draw: The October issue has the most ad pages of any issue in his 11 years as editor-in-chief of Esquire.
Granger wouldn't disclose the extra cost of printing the electronic display or its gain from Ford's ad buy.
"Flex is a breakthrough product for Ford, and the Esquire opportunity offered us the chance to show the vehicle in a way we could never previously have imagined," Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing and communications, said in a written statement.
Esquire is printing 100,000 copies of the October issue with the special cover, which will sell for $5.99 — $2 more than the standard $3.99 cover price — at Borders and Barnes & Noble stores and certain newsstands. Without the e-paper cover, single copies of the anniversary issue will sell for $4.99. Esquire's total monthly circulation is roughly 725,000.
Esquire first approached E Ink about a collaboration more than seven years ago, but the technology was not yet ready for magazines. In the summer of 2007, Esquire and parent Hearst Corp. again contacted E Ink about creating a display for the anniversary issue. The biggest hurdle, Granger said, was packing the six batteries and two computer chips needed for the displays into the magazine's cover. The batteries are guaranteed to last 3 months but expected to work for more than 6 months.
"It was a very difficult process because at every step of the way, nobody had ever done this before," Granger said.
Granger predicted that Esquire will someday include e-paper displays linked to a cellular network or radio frequency, which will allow the magazine to add updates to stories during the month an issue is on sale.
"It could be a year away, it could be three years away, but it will happen soon," Granger said.
E Ink has an exclusive agreement with Hearst through June. Granger said he hopes to use an electronic paper display again in the magazine during the first half of 2009.
"We're already in meetings about what we can do at Esquire and throughout the Hearst magazine division to really take it to the next level and show what this technology is capable of," Granger said. Hearst Magazines' titles also include Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and SmartMoney.
Granger believes e-paper is the technology to finally usher magazines into the 21st century.
"I treasure the magazine experience of, like, going into this little world that's been prepared for you by somebody else," Granger said. "It's not like the Web, where there's just this constant cacophony of noise."
E-paper, Granger said, can incorporate digital technology into magazines without making them unrecognizable. "It preserves that experience but then it adds a little something else," he said, "a little incentive to spend even more time with your magazine."