Monday, April 16, 2007

The paperless paper, an Editor and Publisher special

Here I transcript the text from the original story at

Well, the newspaper world could do with a glimpse of hope. And there it came: after all the signals of steady decline, at least in the industrialised world, digital paper finally offers a perspective for innovation and growth of the beleaguered sector. The digital paper technology combines the best of two worlds: the look and feel of the traditional paper and the versatility of the online editions (see 'E-Readers, Background'). The promise it offers is mind boggling: a newspaper era without newsprint, rotation presses and complicated distribution lines: all serious cost factors. The practice however is less convincing. The enabling e-ink technology is around for several years, but its application is still scarce and purely experimental. That is, until now.
How electronic reading panes are going to change the very nature of the business

With improved functionality of the gear and sophistication of the embedded software, we witness an array of initiatives across Europe and beyond. In a series of three contributions, a number of the most interesting e-reader projects are briefly described. Today a report about the landmark field test the Belgian financial paper De Tijd held last year. The next piece will describe a recently started joint initiative of five Dutch newspapers, and in a third contribution Roger Fidler, the American founding father of the electronic newspaper concept, will give his assessment of the digital paper revolution.

While virtually all newspapers were still ignorant of the digital paper arrival, the Belgian newspaper De Tijd, together with the Flemish research centre IBBT and Philips affiliate iRex Technologies (left), organised a three-month field test for 200 test readers of the paper. The group consisted mostly of well-educated males with a vibrant professional life style: the men on the move. This panel received a daily update of the paper and could select and read articles of choice on the Iliad e-reader iRex had provided and calibrated for the test. The project was intensely guided and researched. The test results give a good insight in the potential as well as the limitations of the e-reader technology at this stage.

It turned out that the test users associated the electronic reading experience with the classical paper rather than an online newspaper edition. Consequently, they were expecting the look and feel of the print product, but now projected onto their mobile e-reading pane. No particular interest in last minute updates, that is in this instance. As such, the device was evaluated as a complementary tool, the ideal travel companion. A pleasant add-on though; a good 45 per cent would consider purchasing the device if a regular journalistic service would be available.

Especially the portability and excellent readability under daylight conditions were highly rated, a noticeable difference with the performance of LCD displays of standard laptop computers. The test users were less satisfied with the rather slow page refreshment time and the general device lay-out; the first problem has been remedied meanwhile by the hardware provider but the latter (the ‘user-in-control’ feeling) requires further development.

Concerning the e-reader content, the proof readers made clear that the used PDF-copy of the print paper was not an appropriate format. The trusted click-through functionality worked well but additional personalisation options (archiving, electronic clipping for instance) and a search function would be welcome. These findings demonstrate that at the user side, the hybrid character of the technology is recognised and appreciated.

The De Tijd-project also looked into the various business models for e-readers. Four possible scenarios were identified, based on two main factors: the level of openness (open versus proprietary solutions) and nature of the content (one source or a variety of sources). The most simple scenario is the newspaper add-on: an e-reader service as an extension of the existing print edition. In the kiosk model, not one newspaper but also other edited volumes such as further papers, magazines, books etc. can be uploaded to the device. The iTunes model is based on the assumption that readers are ready for the purchase of single articles from a preferred provider and then make the collections (me-papers) themselves. The fourth scenario draws on the web model; the reader buys the device and then happily collects the content of Rollable screen E-Reader by Philips subsidiary Polyvision
his/her choice, free and/or paid-for.

These scenarios were assessed by several Flemish stakeholders and media specialists. The general opinion was a continued belief in the present power of editorially composed content and at the same time a growing understanding of the preference of especially younger generations for free and open web-enabled solutions in the times to come.

For more detail about the De Tijd project, contact

The Paperless Paper: E-Readers, Background

The often proclaimed mobile, personalised multimedia electronic paper is quickly maturing: the e-reader has arrived. Trend Watch even referred to the device as “literature’s iPod”. A pivotal role is played by the e-ink mounted devices companies like Sony (left), iRex Technologies and Fujitsu have launched. Electronic ink, originally a product from the Xerox labs, is based on the (electronic) activation of vast numbers of small moving ‘balls’, which, depending on their charge, turn black or white. That delivers a permanently refreshable, highly readable monochrome picture with a resolution of 170 pixels per inch. Once a picture is established, it doesn’t require energy.

The breed of e-readers using this technology has a striking resemblance with the print medium it is supposed to replace: excellent readability, certainly in daylight conditions, portability, and in the near future the same fold-up format (once the present solid back is replaced by a flexible plastic substrate) we love so much in the paper predecessor. So, e-ink based e-readers combine the once unbeatable qualities of the print product with the speed and immediacy of the internet. They more than deserve our curiosity and professional attention.

Next contribution in this series: the battle for appealing e-reader content.

Source: written by Jan Bierhoff, Director of the European Centre for Digital Communication


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

''Electronic paper'' edging toward reality

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - "Electronic paper" has long been hyped as the future of newspapers and books, but products like e-books have been slow to take off. That may soon change, say executives involved in the pioneering technology.

While Internet companies are scanning libraries of books and making them available online, E Ink Corp., which emerged out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a decade ago, is seeing a surge in orders for its portable, foldable displays that mimic conventional paper to carry such books.

"Nine different companies launched products last year based on the technology," said Russell Wilcox, E Ink president. "In the last nine months we've gone from manufacturing tens of thousands of parts to millions of parts."

Among those products are Sony's Reader tablet, whose black-and-white displays can be read in bright sunlight or a dimly lit room from almost any angle -- just like paper -- without traditional back-lit screens that chew up power.

While the displays are becoming more flexible and conserve power, they face other limitations such as working only in monochrome and failing to display video -- areas critical to attracting advertisers and consumers to the technology.

Wilcox said E Ink, whose revenues have grown at a rate of 200 to 300 percent annually in the last three years, is testing a color prototype that could be launched next year, potentially opening the technology to e-magazines and e-newspapers.

Underscoring its aspirations to mainstream media, the company's chairman is Kenneth Bronfin, president of the interactive media division of Hearst Corp., which publishes 12 daily newspapers and 19 magazines including Cosmopolitan.

E Ink holds more than 100 patents on its "electrophoretic" ink technology in which electric charges are sent along a grid embedded in the paper that cause tiny black and white particles to move up and down, creating text and images.


Motofone, Motorola Corp.'s low-cost mobile phone for the developing world, uses the technology because of its ability to conserve power, along with Seiko Epson Corp.'s wristwatch, a flash-memory stick and several other devices.

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, said E Ink needs the technological leap into color and ability to show video before it can reach the masses.

If it can achieve that, McQuivey said, E Ink could threaten to displace the cheap and ubiquitous liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), while revolutionizing how we think about reading.

Electronic billboards, for example, would no longer need to be bulky or costly to erect. They could be hung from just about any wall or folded into the back of a car for easy transport.

"It's so clearly apparent when you use the technology that it could revolutionize so many screens in our lives and it could put screens on things that don't have them but could or should," said McQuivey.

Another challenge for products like e-books is that the number of books available to download in the United States and Europe remains relatively small.

But Sony reckons that will change as consumers discover the ease of using one device that stores hundreds of titles, and as the Internet makes downloading easy.

"More and more things are going online from Amazon and others," said David Seperson, a product manager of Sony's Reader. "We're seeing real growth in digital text."

"Also there is a potential shift in what people would consider reading. It used to be mainly books. Now there are blogs. And there's all kinds of Internet things which will work well because you can take that stuff off the computer screen, and take it with you to the beach and start reading."

© Reuters