Sunday, August 7, 2011

A truly startling realization

I no longer subscribe to many printed magazines but I still always look forward to receiving a couple of my amateur radio publications, QST and CQ magazines, each month.  I really do enjoy reading about our hobby and appreciate the authors who contribute to these publications (for very little money in return). Shoot, I even study the ads, including those that have not changed in decades. (Why do some vendors insist on showing the faces of every radio by every manufacturer, as if we make our purchasing decisions based on those tiny thumbnails? And will MFJ ever change the full-page Hy-Gain rotator ad?)  I always feel good when I open the mailbox and one of the magazines is in there, waiting for me.  It usually lies right there on the hearth next to my recliner where I can pick it up and read an article whenever the mood strikes.

However, as I thumbed through the current edition of CQ, I could not help but notice that the lead article is about all the new gear unveiled this year at the largest amateur radio gathering in the world, the Dayton Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio. The event was in May! And it’s August as I write this. You know, there was a time when we took such delay in a story’s content as the norm. It is, after all, the nature of the magazine publishing biz that there must be considerable lead time for reporting, gathering info, composing the magazine, getting it printed and bound, and putting it in the mail at a rate that the publication can afford, even if it takes a few days to wend its way out to its readers.

But, for example, as I read the short writeup on the exciting new Elecraft KX3 portable transceiver, I recalled that there was a YouTube video posted way back on May 20 featuring Wayne Burdick K6XR giving a very enlightening ten-minute demo of this interesting bit of kit. Posted the same day it happened.  Video.  In full color. With sound. That I could pause, back up, re-run, and go back and look at anytime I wanted to without having to subscribe to and save a magazine or riffle through a bunch of musty, stacked-up old mags to find the one that had the article I wanted to read.  I just went to YouTube and pulled up the video.  It took me all of 20 seconds to find it and get it running.

Is the KX3 story old news in CQ? I’m afraid so.

ARRL recently did a major update on their web site, but though they are trying and it does give us quite a bit of content, it is still clunky and hard to navigate. It does offer some video (welcome to the 21st century) and plenty of archived articles and reviews, all of which is much more current, colorful, and searchable than the magazine could ever be. CQ is also trying, buying World Radio News and offering it as a free PDF download.  However, it is still basically a "print" magazine that can be read on a computer monitor (can ONLY be read there unless you print it out).  It still seems to have many of the same disadvantages as any other printed pub, though.  It just happens to be available on the Internet instead of showing up in the mailbox.

I would hate to lose the printed magazines, though.  I have to worry that the day will come when it is no longer economically feasible to mail me a magazine every month. I still prefer taking that paper-and-stapled thing out on the deck to read on a nice morning.  Or along with me to Subway at lunch to peruse while I enjoy my Black Forest ham sandwich.  And am I the only one that has trouble reading things on a monitor--even a big one--when I have to scroll and click?

Won’t happen, you say? The traditional magazine will never go away. Okay, what was your favorite article in your latest copy of Look or Life? Mind if I borrow your Saturday Evening Post?  There was a time when magazines argued that they could offer more in-depth reporting and analysis than newspapers or radio/TV.  More pretty pictures than you could ever get in a newspaper.  No longer true.  Google "Dayton Hamvention" (146,000 results) or "Elecraft KX3" (13,400 results)  Any publication offering that amount of stuff would not fit into my mailbox!

I rest my case. Truth is, media consumers want their content in a wide variety of ways, and will choose such media on three primary criteria:

1) How easy it is to consume in all those myriad ways,

2) How compelling the content is, and

3) How cheap it is to access. 

We see it happening with books, movies, television, music and more and it amounts to a revolution.  Some media will not fare well unless they figure out how to monetize--the new buzz word for all media--or subsicize some of the old ways of distribution.  As in any revolution, there will be casualties.

I’m afraid that does not bode well for QST and CQ.


Don Keith N4KC


Anonymous said...

Hi Don!

Your well-thought-out post is so timely. I just threw out a TON of old QSTs and will be carting four banker boxes worth of hard cover books to my local Half Price Books store tomorrow.

I dropped CQ many moons ago as many others have done. Just look at the reviews of both QST and CQ on to see why some (many?) are dropping their subscriptions.

As you know, I am the author of an ebook and yet I don't yet own a Kindle. I am waiting for the much-talked-about model that will feature TWO viewing modes: eInk (for crisp ebook and periodical reading) AND LCD (for Web surfing and everything else).

I see that QST has recently conducted a reader survey asking who has an e-reader and that they are moving in that direction. If they can get it right, and since I am now on a fixed income, I will certainly be an early adopter of a digital QST for Kindle, hopefully at a discount.

Same goes for my daily Milwaukee newspaper, especially when it is snowing like crazy outside and I want to stay cozy inside in my La-Z-Boy.

Sooner or later, too, (again, when the bugs get all worked out) we will opt for streaming our current Netflix subscription instead of hiking out to the mailbox. Heck, in my little country town (pop 700) the post office may close altogether.

I already subscribe to two weekly digital DX newsletters (one free and one priced less than its print counterpart). I print both out.

Living in a compact retirement QTH by design to maximize energy savings and minimize housekeeping, we don't have much extra space for piles of periodicals or books. And yet my wife, who is an avid reader, will never give up her weekly trip to the library.

As much time as I spend in front of a computer monitor each day, I have no problem adapting my reading habits to the e-screen (maybe with a bump-up in font size. Ha!). However, when it comes to streaming movies, give me my 40 inch HD Sony any day!

Speaking of Dayton, I am hoping someone like Flexradio or Elecraft rolls out a 100-watt all-mode transceiver that is in the configuration of a 15-inch laptop like my awesome Panasonic Toughbook CF-52 (with a built-in carrying handle and close to Mil-spec hardening).

I want only one box that does it ALL and shows me everything on a split screen (1/3 radio face, 1/3 digital waterfall, and 1/3 panadaptor. No goo-gaws hanging off the side or ratty cables going to interfaces or external power supplies. Heck, maybe an e-reader built in for good measure!

At least my grandchildren won't think that Grampy is an old fart with a cool radio like that!

Wayne C. Long, K9YNF

Don Keith N4KC said...

Wayne, that's the mixed bag you and I must endure. We are excited by the possibilities of digital media but we still have a certain affinity for the old paper-and-ink publications. We are raising a generation now who are not so attached to ink on the fingers or the smell of paper.

I'm one of those who want it all...a nice book on my lap in the easy chair, but I also enjoy the ease and convenience of my Nook.

Why don't you invent that computer with an HF rig inside. I'd be interested! Though it's taking a surprisingly long time for the TV with the built in computer, wi fi ready, with a DVD burner hooked up to the DVR for easily saving recorded material.

I know what some of the forces are that are slowing it down, but the consumer will ultimately win. He always does.

Don N4KC