Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why the Esquire Backlash?

I can't help it--I'm a sucker for gimmicks. And I believe most magazine readers are too. By definition, aren't all magazine covers gimmicky, from Vogue declaring its "Biggest Issue Ever" to i-D's customary wink photo (dating back to the 80s) and monthly theme (The Couples Issue, The Ice Cream Issue, The Tissue Issue)? So then why all the backlash to Esquire's 75th Anniversary E-Ink cover?

For the big milestone, Esquire worked with Cambridge, Mass.-based E Ink Corp to develop a 10-square-inch display on the cover that flashes "The 21st Century Begins Now" along with flashing images, much like a mini-Times Square. A two-page ad also features a 10-square-inch display with a car shifting colors on the inside cover. The E Ink cover is estimated to flash for more than six months. Amazon's Kindle reader also uses E Ink, but unlike Kindle, the magazine's display is not linked to a wireless network. The magazine cover is actually quite cool, as seen in the video below, taken from

According to an AP Report, Esquire was interested in E Ink more than 7 years ago, but the company said it was not ready for magazines. The biggest challenge, according to the magazine's Editor-in-chief David Granger, was fitting in the six batteries and two computer chips.

Magazine aficionados, though, are quick to point out that Esquire's cover is more publicity stunt than wave of the future, but who cares? The magazine industry needs publicity now more than ever to keep itself relevant. According to Granger, this issue had more ad pages than any other issue in the last 11 years that he's been editor, so I'd say its a great way to celebrate the history of one America's longest lasting magazines. In the AP article, Granger said he had high hopes for the use of E Ink.
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.

I don't think this will change magazines forever the way Granger predicted, and I don't believe many magazines will pick up on this technology, but it is definitely cool to look at. I went the day after it hit newsstands to buy an issue of the sure-to-be collector's item to find it already sold out. The gimmick must be working. Yesterday during another casual magazine perusing, I found a normal, non-E Ink cover for the issue, but didn't buy it. I think I will purchase it next time, though, because I believe meaningful content must lie behind this magazine's clever gimmick.

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