Esquire Expires

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Jun 30, 2009


Esquire E-Ink CoverLast October I picked up a copy of Esquire’s 75th Anniversary edition which featured an E-Ink electronic paper display embedded in the cover. With moving words and flashing images this experimental magazine cover was meant to attract attention and explore the possibilities surrounding electronic paper display technology and the publishing industry.


The magazine sat on my desk for a couple days and quickly attracted the attention of a few co-workers. Before long, we started an office pool — placing bets on the day that the magazine’s batteries would die and the display would expire.


According to, the electronics and batteries used for the E-Ink cover were manufactured in China, flown to Dallas, shipped in a refrigerated truck to Mexico where the covers were assembled by hand, and shipped back to Kentucky, home of one of R.R. Donnelly’s magazine printing plants. Retrofitted equipment was then used to bind the special covers to the rest of the magazine before it was distributed across the country. Esquire originally estimated that once activated, the batteries used to power the flashing E-Ink display would last 90 days. In actuality, my copy of Esquire magazine lived for nearly 250 days, exceeding my expectations and destroying my chance of winning the pool. The expiration of Esquire magazine got me thinking about the viability of electronic paper.


Electronic paper display technology is not new. In fact, the first form of electronic paper, known as Gyricon, was first invented at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970’s. Today’s leading supplier of electronic paper display technologies, E Ink Corporation, has churned through $150 million in funding over the last 12 years in an attempt to bring electronic paper displays to market. In recent years, E Ink Corp. has seen some success in the e-book market with the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle, for which they provide the displays. Industry analysts estimate that roughly 400,000 Amazon Kindles were sold in 2008 and expect e-book sales to climb to 20 million units by 2012.


This June, Prime View International, a Tawainese display provider, announced that it would acquire E Ink Corp. for $215 million. Despite the recent buzz and optimism surrounding the e-book market, the acquisition price of E Ink Corp. is thought to be relatively low. The commercialization of electronic paper is tied to technology advancements that have been slow in coming since its discovery more than 35 years ago. Color, flexibility, video support, extended battery life, larger formats, and lower production costs are all improvements that will help expand the applicability of electronic paper. Combining electronic paper with RFID (radio frequency identification) and wireless internet capability also opens the door to some interesting concepts. E Ink Corp. hopes to use its technology for eNewspapers/eMagazines, billboards, mobile phones, point-of-purchase displays, packaging, and other applications.


The experimental issue of Esquire magazine was meant to demonstrate a new technology that has the potential to change the way we read paper magazines in the future. In reality, the flashing E-ink display was used as an attention grabbing gimmick. It didn’t add much value to the publication and it certainly hasn’t revolutionized magazine publishing. Yet, an important step in advancing new technology is calling attention to innovative applications. Even though my magazine has expired, I applaud Esquire for exploring a new idea that could certainly influence the future of publishing.

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