Plastic Fantastic Newspapers

newsboy.jpgHere it is, your newspaper of the future. It's a hybrid, halfway between an iPod mp3 music player and a laptop, and its developers promise you'll be able to fold it and put it in your pocket.

From a Reuters story on Publish:

(As) early as this year, the future may finally arrive. Some of the world's top newspaper publishers are planning to introduce a form of electronic newspaper that will allow users to download entire editions from the Web on to reflective digital screens said to be easier on the eyes than light-emitting laptop or cellphone displays.

Flexible versions of these readers may be available as early as 2007.

The handheld readers couldn't come a moment too soon for the newspaper industry, which has struggled to maintain its readership and advertising from online rivals.

Publishers Hearst Corp. in the U.S., Pearson Plc.'s Les Echos in Paris and Belgian financial paper De Tijd are planning a large-scale trials of the readers this year.


Sony and iRex's new devices employ screen technology by E Ink, which originated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. Investors include Hearst, Philips, McClatchy Co., Motorola Inc. and Intel Corp.

The company produces energy-efficient ink sheets that contain tiny capsules showing either black or white depending on the electric current running through it.

Some of the latest devices apply E Ink's sheets to glass transistor boards, or back planes, which are rigid. But by 2007, companies such as U.K.-based Plastic Logic Ltd will manufacture screens on flexible plastic sheets, analysts say.

Separately, Xerox Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are developing methods to produce flexible back planes cheaply. Xerox, in particular, has created a working prototype of system that lets manufacturers create flexible transistor boards much like one would print a regular paper document.

Production costs are expected to be low enough soon for publishers to consider giving away such devices for free with an annual subscription. Data on subscribers could also help publishers better tailor ads.

This new newspaper fills a niche I'm not sure exists. It seems like many news consumers have already decided they are willing to give up the portability of the print edition in exchange for all the advantages of online news surfing. Will the new devices let you aggregate your own content choices from multiple sources, or would you be stuck with one publication?

I understand the need to get subscribers to commit to a full year's subscription. The devices are $300 each. But that seems like a barrier.

Frankly, I like the way things are now. The newspaper used to slow me down in the morning. It would come to my house, and I'd race through it over coffee before getting ready for work. Now, by the time the paper arrives at my door, I've already read much of it online the previous night, and I know I can catch up with the rest of it whenever I want, on my laptop or a desktop. I only continue letting the LA Times pile up in a corner of my apartment because my wife likes to save the Food and Home sections.

The new device sounds cool, technologically. Maybe if I took a train to work…

But what do I know? When the iPod mp3 player first came on the scene, I didn't see the point. You can only listen to one song at a time, so I wondered why was it so critical to be able to carry 1,500, or 3,000 or 10,000 songs with you? Well, when I walked our dog this morning, I listened to a random mix that bounced from Stan Getz to Bruce Springsteen to Cat Power to Sammy Davis, Jr. to the Decembrists. I might love this new thing, too.


2 thoughts on “Plastic Fantastic Newspapers

  1. I read a number of papers online, inlcluding my hometown washingtonpost, but I would miss not getting the paper paper in morning. That edition lends itself to my showing pictures to my young kids and happening across random stories I might skip online where it is easier to hone in on what I want. Also, I found newspaper composition/layout conveys a lot of editorial information to be about the significance, novelty, and likely importance of different stories that online sites have not yet done a good job replicating or finding new ways to convey. I may not agree with each of those editorial judgments, but it is helpful to me having them available to inform my reading and thinking.

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