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The Economy and the iPad

As America white-knuckles its way through another roller coaster of economic uncertainty, publishers may find the ride less harrowing as a result of the iPad. The iTunes Store represents an opportunity for publishers to leverage existing assets by relaunching them as digital books and magazines and making them available for sale online. While the economy may deter publishers from taking risks on entirely new projects, archival material can be recomposed and reinvented at considerably lower cost. It's time to empty the file cabinets, microfiche reels and tape drives in search of content that can be resold and repackaged to an entirely new audience in entirely new ways.

Just like that, everything old is new again. Out-of-print books. Back issues of magazines. Souvenir programs. And more.

In reality, it's not just the iPad. We're watching carefully as Amazon readies its tablet and keeping an eye on the Nook Color, which has a pricepoint and form factor that fit quite nicely into a woman's handbag. It's getting harder and harder to take the other tablets seriously — the BlackBerry manufacturer is hemorrhaging and HP is already cutting prices on its new WebOS device. But Apple and others are creating new markets for old content presented in new ways. At precisely the right time — economic tumult will intimidate advertisers but the soaring market for electronic books will keep them interested. Now it's up to publishers to find a way to take advantage.

As always, creativity is the gateway to opportunity. It's not enough to simply scan and sell old printed material. Start by reorganizing content — separating one morsel from another and identifying clever ways to rebundle and reinvent. Consider ways to infuse multimedia, which could be as simple as adding hyperlinked content, audio interviews or video features. Bridge old and new in ways that intrigue audiences, and find stakeholders that would benefit from reaching those audiences. Content can be subsidized in many ways, through consumer sales, advertising and even sponsorships.

As the markets tsunami, many will adjust their strategies accordingly. Capital expenditures may fall, but ambition and growth need not. The path to a solid future may run through the past. In many ways, the digital publishing revolution has left behind established publishers who were weighed down by their legacies. As the economy constricts investment, it may be that those with the tallest mounds of reinventable content are the most nimble of all.

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