Do e-books show us the way forward for magazines?
A view from Sue Unerman

Do e-books show us the way forward for magazines?

I cannot imagine trading reading books made out of paper for an e-book. But then I still really miss the smell of vinyl - if I had my way, I would never have traded records for CDs, let alone MP3 players.

On the other hand, I wouldn't have expected to watch TV or listen to the radio on my laptop 12 months ago, but I am.

This month, Waterstone's is launching the Sony Reader in the UK. It is not the first on the market, but at £199 it is at a reasonable price point.

Quite what the audience will be in the UK for the electronic alternative to books is, of course, unknown, and something that will be very difficult to predict.

In the US, where Amazon has led the e-book charge, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos claims that when a product is available in both traditional and electronic formats, the e-book accounts for 12% of sales.

Will the Sony Reader or the Amazon Kindle be the thing that nudges us to the e-book, or will we jump instead to downloading books onto our mobile phones?

In Japan, Harlequin, the world's largest romance novel publisher, already sells all its books direct to mobile.

And could this be an opportunity for magazine publishers to reconsider how they commercially exploit digital media?

Those magazines that cannot make money online and are fed up with giving content away for free, may find selling a subscription to a monthly download a more equivalent alternative to selling a print magazine on the news-stand, and one that reaps long-term rewards.

This strategy could even finally break the tyranny of the cover-mount - the zero-sum game where publishers may not gain incremental sales from a free gift, but run the risk of losing share if they don't have one.

It could also enable accurate and timely circulation reports, to increase magazines' accountability to advertisers and sponsors.

A further clear advantage of the electronic book is storage space. I never have enough bookshelves, and as I am incapable of discarding books that I enjoy, this is an increasing problem.

Equally, I am usually reading several books at once. At the moment, I can't carry them all around in my handbag, whereas if they were electronic, I could manage even more books - and possibly two or three magazines as well.

I'd need the device to be waterproof though, as I love reading in the bath.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom
sue.unerman@haymarket.com