Will Tablets Save Print Publishing? Slate’s Shafer Says Not Quite

magazinespic.jpgMagazine and newspaper publishers may have missed the boat when it comes to the Internet, but they are determined to be ahead of the curve when the tablet e-reader — or something similar — comes out. Esquire and GQ have already launched iPhone-downloadable versions of their magazines and Time Inc. and Bonnier Corp. have unveiled demos of their tablet-ready magazine concepts.

But Slate.com’s resident media watcher, Jack Shafer, says it might be too soon to hail the tablet as the savior of the publishing industry. Shafer compares the tablet technology to CD-ROM’s of 1992, using Newsweek‘s product, called Newsweek Interactive, as an analogy:

Newsweek President Richard M. Smith told the [New York Times] that his company’s early experience with the CD-ROM product would give it a valuable head-start on the competition.

A head-start to last place, I should add. The CD-ROM and its fellow technologies flopped for a variety of reasons. Too expensive, too cumbersome, too wedded to a propriety platform, and not much fun.”

Are all those publishers seeking to pump out tablet demos before the device is even released on a similar race to the bottom? We are excited to see what these new devices will mean to the industry — because they look pretty darn cool — but they’ll only be the hip new thing until something new comes along. As Shafer concludes:

“That’s not to say that the tablet has no future. It’s just if the past is any guide, the future of the tablet won’t look like the SI or Wired prototypes — any more than Pathfinder turned out to be the future of the Web. I find it more likely that some young people at a startup will figure out the highest uses of the tablet form before SI or even Slate does. As Newsweek‘s president ultimately learned from his CD-ROM debacle, not all head-starts turn out to be valuable.”

The Tablet Hype –Slate

Previously: Bonnier Debuts Plans For Highly Anticipated Tablet Device