Thursday, October 16, 2008

E-newspapers may become reality in 2009

Earlier this week, we considered newsroom problems. These problems are job losses (human connections) and promotion as well as paper and fuel costs. These issues must be addressed before other significant problems can be resolved.

The recent stock market nosedive made fuel prices drop, but doesn't resolve the fuel problem as much as it temporarily relieves the pain.

However, the company Plastic Logic may cauterize the wounds of the newspaper industry. It recently introduced a (currently unnamed) lightweight, plastic electronic newspaper reading device.

This device may directly address the issues of fuel, paper costs and ad revenue while allowing newsrooms to breathe easier - but not until later next year after most newsrooms have been gutted.

In a video demonstration of the device, Richard Archuleta, CEO of Plastic Logic, says the device is about the size, weight and thickness of a pad of notebook paper.

It features a 13-inch diagonal screen (8.5 x 11 dimensions). This is 2.5 times the size of similar e-book readers such as Sony's eReader and's Kindle. It can be wirelessly updated throughout the day and facilitates layout and design to mimic the look of a traditional newspaper page.

Additionally, it may incorporate touch-screen technology and a pop-up keyboard. The battery life is measured in days. The screen can be read easier in bright daylight. It can also hold hundreds of PDF and text pages.

The technology used to actually manufacture the product reduces weight, cost and improves durability.

A press release about the company's new German plant states, "Plastic Logic's core technology solves the critical issue in manufacturing high-resolution transistor arrays on flexible plastic substrates using a low-temperature. The process is simpler than conventional glass silicon processes, and produces active matrix displays that are thinner, lighter and more robust than glass."

The New York Times reports the current model was shown at an emerging technology trade show in San Diego in September. Its price, brand name and a list of participating newspapers will be announced in January at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Hearst Corp. and The New York Times appear to have vested interests in the product.

The current version can display multi-shaded, black-and-white pages on a lightweight, durable plastic screen. Prototypes are reported to already display colors and work continues to include video capabilities. Flexibility and stylus interactivity are also being considered as a favorable attributes for future versions of the device.

While this isn't anywhere near as cool as surface computers, it's got potential.

Future potential
Because of its low cost, high durability, interactivity and wireless capabilities, this product could be a boon to newspaper and magazine owners.

Therein lives the problem.

If billionaire media companies can deliver newspapers and magazines to these devices, so could anyone else. I doubt the behemoths want this to happen. The cost of a high-quality, high-capacity press is prohibitive to almost anyone wanting to exercise "freedom of the press."

This device could allow anyone with a graphical computer to produce news products equal to or better than existing media companies.

While PDF delivery would allow ad revenue generation to continue at currently acceptable press-run rates it also eliminates the barrier between the Web and the press. Current online-only publishers would have an opening to expand and challenge traditional media.

This could usher the return of city and niche publications. A small-scale, mobile newsroom staff could produce publications without most overhead expenses associated with traditional publications.

Again, media executives won't be excited about this and are likely to find ways to stop it. So, don't get too excited yet.

The most likely scenario would be to subtly convert current subscribers to e-subscribers by offering "free" e-reader devices. The cost of the devices would be initially absorbed by the publication and spread over the course of the subscription.

I'd suspect these publication-supplied e-readers would be wired to limit reception to only the publications' products. However, if there's a wireless fee (and FCC regulations) associated with the product, the media companies may not see the value of this approach.

This could open the door for everyone else with fast feet and InDesign skills.

Stay tuned, this could get interesting soon. The current products are set to begin delivery in early 2009.

UPDATE: 24 Oct. 2008
A company representative said the product will be available to new, small publications. This is good news for my current project. It means the project can move forward. It also means there could be a flood of new community papers that need Fair Trade content and/or wire services.

Enough for now,


Andy Smothers said...

Thanks for sharing this, Mark.

Interesting report and device. I keep hearing that the Kindle 2.0 is around the corner coming in 2 different sizes and flavors this time. I embrace the concept, but not the current design of the Kindle. Unless this new mousetrap offers the same level of access to wireless books, training guides, magazine distros and newspapers, then it will not be successful IMHO. I think people will not mind being "green" and wouldn't mind transporting 1 really nice "all in one" reader/netbook device, but I think it should be one device.

With the cost of Netbooks hovering in the $300 range, not sure where these e-reader only devices will fit especially with the new generation of Dell, Acer and Toshibas supporting 3G network support in addition to wifi.

Going to be interesting. I would pay today for a .pdf version of my Times Picayune newspaper. Just been waiting and wondering what the next course of action will be on this initiative.

Good thoughts and reporting, Mark.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Hi Andy,
I think this has a lot more potential than the big publishers want to talk about yet.
Primarily, it allows subscribers to download PDFs. This keeps the stories off the Web and away from search engines, which don't pay a dime to news companies. Instead of the full story, publishers could upload a headline and TinyURL address to the subscription page.
It also resolves the full pay for ads issue. Advertisers have refused to pay fair rates for online ads. This would let them continue to pay for display ads in set postions at rates they understand.