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Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
David Granger, Esquire’s editor in chief, now has all the pieces for an electronic cover after tracking the technology for years.
That illustrious history hangs over the magazine’s effort to celebrate its 75th year. Its attempt to add to the annals of museum-worthy covers includes a nod to the digital age: an electronic cover, using admittedly rudimentary technology, that will flash “the 21st Century Begins Now,” when it appears on newsstands in September.
“I hope it will be in the Smithsonian,” said David Granger, Esquire’s editor in chief, in a recent interview while showing prototypes of the cover — an early version has a cord sticking out that attaches to a battery pack.
If it does wind up in the Smithsonian, it will need a power source; on its own, the magazine will run out of juice after 90 days. Mr. Granger knows some will see the cover as a gimmick — but he says he thinks the technology behind it, which has been used for supermarket displays but never embedded in a magazine, speaks to the possibilities of print.
“Magazines have basically looked the same for 150 years,” Mr. Granger said. “I have been frustrated with the lack of forward movement in the magazine industry.”
Pointing to the prototype sitting on a conference room table, Mr. Granger said, “The possibilities of print have just begun. In two years, I hope this looks like cellphones did in 1982, or car phones.”
The company that produced the cover, E Ink, has a track record of innovation — its technology is used in Amazon.com’s e-book device, the Kindle. E Ink, a private company based in Cambridge, Mass., counts Hearst, Esquire’s parent, as a major shareholder.
“We are trying to combine a 21st-century technology with a 19th-century manufacturing process,” Mr. Granger said.
All of this, of course, is expensive. Which is why it was necessary for Esquire to find a sponsor. In stepped Ford Motor, which will have an advertisement on the inside of the cover that will use the same technology to promote its new minivan-sport utility vehicle, the Flex.
“We wanted the marketing plan for this vehicle to include motion as much as possible,” said Usha Raghavachari, communications manager for S.U.V.’s for Ford North America Marketing. “We had a desire to make our marketing launch as unique as the vehicle. This makes our print plan a little more energizing.”
Esquire has exclusive use of E Ink’s technology for use in print through 2009, and Mr. Granger said he hopes to come up with new ideas for it. “This is probably just a limited view of its use,” he said.
The electronic cover will be used in only 100,000 copies that go to newsstands — its overall circulation is about 720,000.
What Esquire is doing harks back to a big splash National Geographic made in 1984 when it introduced holography to the mass market by placing a hologram of an eagle on its cover.
Holograms did become widespread in things like greeting cards, even if they did not upend the publishing world.
“Part of the iconic DNA of the magazine is our covers,” said Mr. O’Malley, Esquire’s publisher. “I fully expect that in 25 to 30 years, this cover will be in a museum.”
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