In-Flight Magazines Grounded?

The in-flight magazine may be on its last legs. In yesterday’s Guardian Media Section Conor Purcell speculates that environmental pressures and the cost of fuel will render the in-flight magazine obsolete. Emirates will soon drop its house magazine:

According to Emirates’ president Tim Clark, the decision to ban all onboard paper will lighten the aircraft by a tonne. “It’s 2kg per seat and 500 seats, a worthwhile saving,” he says. “We are doing it because of fuel prices and the environment. The printed matter will be replaced by content shown on the aircraft’s seat-back TVs.”
The Guardian, July 28 2008

Can the in-flight magazines really weigh so much? 2kg per seat sounds like far too much. Are Emirates getting rid of lots of on-board manuals at the same time they bin the magazines and entertainment guide? But the weight of on-board magazines must certainly add up in the course of the millions of miles traveled each year by every jumbo jet. In the 1980s when jet fuel was very cheap and printed advertising rates were very high, Japan Airlines apparently removed seats from some of their planes to accommodate the weight of their 300 pp on-board magazine. Even when it is very cheap, carbon has a cost.

Will airline companies replace their print magazines with digital magazines delivered through the head-rest mounted display as Emirates plan to do? I would not be confident about the stability of this market. If you can read any digital magazine or surf any website, will you really want to read the digital branded magazine that is coming to you via the poor resolution of a headrest monitor? If you cant surf every site from your headrest monitor you will be tempted to use your own web connection. 3G is making such striking progress that we will all soon be using our iPhone or our notebook computer on-board. On-board wi-fi is coming (eg branded for American or Virgin America), but it could well be disintermediated by the all pervasive mobile phone networks. I dont think walled-gardens will work too well for the airlines, even at 40,000 ft. The in-flight digital magazine that works will be one that you can tap into before and after your flight and that you really, really want to use when you are on board. That presents some interesting challenges.