What a difference a week makes. With Apple's announcement of the iPad last Wednesday, publishers may have just gotten a reprieve from their death sentence, and agencies may have just been handed a convenient way to get into the content business.
The iPad represents Apple's vote of confidence for the future of books, newspapers and magazines. Apple shows every intention of doing for text-based content what it did for music with iTunes. Any kind of written communications will become easier to buy and more exciting to consume on a beautiful 9.7-inch, back-lit, color screen. Apple is betting that it can create an entirely new market for books and publications with its online bookstore. If it's right, this could be an important development in the evolution of communications.
Why would the iPad be significant for marketers? Because it creates a whole new channel for sharing content with consumers, and it also begins to define a new creative medium that can become part of a communications strategy. Such a multimedia tool may encourage more reading -- especially in the non-fiction categories.
Just like iTunes created a distribution channel for company podcasts and audio content, the Apple bookstore will likely create a new distribution channel for business e-books, white papers, annual reports and product information. In other words, Apple may create a huge retail environment that can be used to distribute all the content that companies now warehouse on corporate websites. This will be another step in letting consumers discover and interact with brands where and when they want.
The bigger deal is that the iPad will transform the experience that we have with books and publications. This transformation began with the Kindle, the Nook and other e-book readers. No matter how skeptical you may be about reading books online, you can't resist taking an entire library on a plane without adding any weight to your briefcase. While these e-book readers get the basic job done, they sacrifice graphic design and user experience, a huge factor necessary to sell books in the first place. You can see the iPad begin to solve this problem with its virtual bookshelf. Apple may just find a way to satisfy the nostalgia and value of an old fashioned bookstore.
The real excitement, however, is that the iPad will go a step further and offer the potential to redefine the book as a multimedia experience. You can embed video, create links and introduce interactivity. Art books will connect you to museums. History books will take you to the locations you're reading about. Expect to also see social components that allow readers to connect with each other, authors and publishers. The Daily Prophet newspaper that brings stories to life from the "Harry Potter" novels may be closer than we think. What looked like magic a couple of years ago is about to go mainstream.
All these developments raise the creative bar for agencies. At a minimum, if you're in the business of creating any kind of publication, you will need to master this new medium if you expect to get the attention of consumers. There's also a tremendous opportunity for innovation, and it wouldn't surprise me to see some of the most exciting book concepts get published, not by traditional publishers, but by companies and agencies that already see the value in branded content.
Given all these factors, it's not such a stretch to imagine that the agency of the future will add publishing to a growing list of essential capabilities. Advertising agencies have always been among the first to recognize the most important innovations in communications. Now another notable change is upon us.
Of course, for some people these developments are completely irrelevant. On the first floor of the PJA Advertising building in Cambridge, you can find the James & Devon Gray Booksellers that happily sell only books printed before 1700.
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