Newspapers and Magazines: E-paper or Bust in 2010

Newspapers and magazines have been dying slowly since the invention of the internet, and each day they struggle to regain their glory days of a few years past. Now it seems they’ve found their saviors in the land of e-paper, with different forms of e-reader technology allowing them to get new subscribers electronically. Can this really save the flagging profit margins for the market? Or will it just slow down the death, stop the bleeding for a little bit?

We think that e-paper (and e-readers in general) really can save print publishing’s newspapers and magazines, and that this year will be the year when the technology starts to ramp up and make the transition from paid print services to paid electronic services. Sure, in the last year we’ve seen both the Kindle and the Nook allow for subscriptions to a few magazines (and a handful of blogs), but in 2010 we will be seeing e-readers built with magazines and newspapers in mind from the ground up.

Size Matters

One of the key enhancements to the current e-readers and their screens is the size of the screens. Magazines and newspapers are much larger than books, mostly because of their layouts and use photography to enhance their content. Add in a large amount of content shoved into as few pages as possible, and you have the need for a wider page size. So far, devices like the Nook or the Kindle are perfect for paperback sized book reading, allowing you the portability and size of small book. These displays become cramped and impossible to read easily when trying to view newspapers or magazines.

A larger screen is then a must. And a lot of different e-readers coming out in the next year mimic the Kindle DX, giving them newspaper or magazine size layouts on an e-paper screen. Hearst’s e-reader for it’s Skiff platform is rumored to be about the size of a magazine, as is Plastic Logic’s up and coming e-reader platform. Bridgestone recently released a video of it’s own newspaper sized e-reader, although the speed in which it refreshes is painfully slow, even for an e-paper platform.

Portability is Preferable

The main problem with larger e-paper screens is the lack of portability. What makes newspapers and magazines so enjoyable is the ability to roll them up and take them with you. You can read them on the bus, on your lunch break or even while sitting on the bench in the park. The current technology for e-readers makes this nearly impossible. You can’t fold or spindle your e-reader without probably breaking it first.

The next generation of e-readers will have ways around this. We’ve already seen reports of Flexible, bi-stable LCD’s that allow you to roll up your device and take it with you. This method mimics the portability of newspapers and magazines manufactured the old fashioned way, and allows for cold manufacturing, which is better on the whole for the environment.

Color is Key

For magazines (and a few newspapers, like USA Today and Newsweek) color is an important aspect of getting the look and feel down just right. A lot of new technologies are promising color e-paper in the next year, giving people exactly what they need in a portable e-magazine. Some companies are skipping over the e-paper aspect and just creating single-purpose tablets (like Sports Illustrated’s new device). These seem to be missing the point. If people wanted to read a magazine on a tablet PC, they would.

Others, like Mirasol or PixelQi are bringing in some interesting new ways in displaying full color e-paper, and keeping the benefits of e-paper that people enjoy, like low-battery consumption and easy reading without glare or eye-strain. They also seem to be leaping beyond the low frame rate problem, and even enabling video on their devices.

Is it Necessary?

The real question is, is this even necessary? Do we really need a single purpose device for displaying magazines and newspapers? Since e-readers are currently between 200$ to 300$ a piece, it makes it difficult to think we need two devices, one for books and one for magazines. Should magazines and newspapers evolve by creating their own e-reader like the Kindle DX or Plastic Logic’s up and coming device? Or should they resize and reformat for the Kindle or the Nook?

Either way, the future for these two print technologies is going electronic and fast. The old methods of subscription and distribution are slowly falling behind, each of them losing more and more subscribers as time wears on.

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    [...] Kindle?  How many people are holding a newspaper, a book or a magazine? According to some, the amount of the former is on the rise, which leads one to believe that the number of the latter is on the [...]

  3. avatar Mike says:

    Is the large newspaper format really desireable?! If you are on a public transport, you’re either spreading into your neighbor’s face or folding it up so it’s inconvenient to read. One of the great ergonomic benefits of on-line news is a reasonable layout for the medium.

    Fit the content to the format, not the other way around!

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