The venerable Esquire magazine is set to make publishing history with its 75th anniversary issue, which will be the first mass-market publication to feature an animated electronic E-Ink cover. Some 100,000 copies of the issue will be available at newstands—subscribers, alas, get plain paper in the mail—in an expensive proof-of-concept that sets out to prove print media can pick up just as much oomph from technology anything else.
The cover features a 10 square-inch display that flashes "The 21st Century Begins Now" amid a small collection of lit images. The inside cover features an illuminated ad for the Ford Flex; Ford is onboard as a "sponsor" of the E-Ink issue, which would have been prohibitively expensive to produce without some outside deep pockets. That said, the issue is also one of the most over-sold of Esquire’s history, carrying more traditional display ads than any issue in recent years.
The issues feature a custom battery—which reportedly took a "six-figure investment" to design and produce—that should keep the displays going for ninety days. The manufacturing chain for the magazines is reportedly byzantine, with the batteries and covers being built in China, then shipped to Mexico by way of Texas, where the 100,000 individual issues were assembled by hand, then loaded into refrigerated trucks for distribution in the United States. (That urban myth about keeping batteries in the freezer to extend their shelf life…might be truer than most people think.)
Ryan Joseph at the Dastardly Report has already set hands on an issue, and has posted a video of its display, to be followed by a disassembly and, of course, hacking.
Whether E-Ink displays—and their descendents—revolutionize print media remains to be seen; Esquire’s experiment could be the dawning of a new age or a flash-in-the-pan experiment that amounts to little more than a footnote in the demise of "old media." But I can’t think of many people who want to keep their magazines in a freezer—or pop them into chargers—so they don’t lose their content.