Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The future of publishing without paper

by Larry Geller

Writing about the newspaper meltdown has become more complicated recently. The daily papers are getting thinner, layoffs and other cutbacks continue. More people may be abandoning a product that is increasingly less able to deliver what they might have wanted in a print newspaper. They are opting for the web, which provides a different but richer experience in most ways.

Check out KGMB’s article today, Delivering Hawaii's News; Paper or Online. The article begins:

Oahu's major newspapers have been making headlines lately with layoffs and cutbacks. Sharon Kawakami used to buy the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star Bulletin, but she canceled her subscriptions and now her cell phone helps her stay connected to the news.

"We can get news free, and just by this recent turnabout of economy and everything, we decided we need to cut costs," Kawakami explained.

I was thinking also of the high cost of college textbooks, an increasing burden on American students, and likely an impediment to the country’s ability to compete internationally. Plus, books and magazines of all kinds have become expensive. If newspapers go the way of the dodo, will other forms of print publication follow in turn? Wouldn’t it be better if the knowledge now trapped in expensive textbooks also became more affordable or free through electronic publication?

I was eagerly awaiting Plastic Logic’s announcement, expected today, of their new 10.7 inch display thin, light reader, a competitor to the Kindle and its kin. I checked before breakfast and there was nothing on their website, but after finishing my espresso, I found the website updated. Check it out. As a user of a Tablet PC and the New York Times Reader, I can tell you that while it’s not yet a pleasure to read on the flat screen, it’s certainly possible.

One day the presses may grind to a halt and we’ll have nothing left but our e-book readers (The image that came to me: the Advertiser’s fancy German press blows a head gasket and they decide to just throw it out instead of repairing it). It may not be so bad if we have to read everything on some portable device. Newspapers, textbooks, journals, magazines, all without paper. All cheaper, one hopes, or free.

It could also be a solution to the problem that may plague web content providers—how to avoid the ad-blocking wars (an ad blocker for Internet Explorer is becoming more popular, freeing the least savvy users from popups and other annoyances). In other words, charging for content might replace advertising. The Advertiser wants $208 for a year’s subscription. We’re already paying for their web content.

I’m playing with carrying around some Indian recipes in my cellphone. I’ve wanted to try cooking some of these at home, but I’m not familiar with the ingredients. My cellphone isn’t an ideal e-Book reader, but hey, putting the whole book into it did not add one ounce to its weight, and I can check what ingredients I need for the recipe in the store. I started a wine list in my phone also. If I had a Plastic Logic reader, it would be in there, and I’d be cooking with gas, as my uncle used to say.

Google Book Search has just announced that 1.5 million titles will be available for searching on some smartphones.

The Google and Plastic Logic offerings were both mentioned in an Information Week article, Book App Makes E-Book Readers Out Of Smartphones (2/10/2009):

Shortcovers' digital book platform essentially turns iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Microsoft Mobile handsets into rivals of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader.

These technologies will probably converge one day. News, textbooks, magazines, maybe movies, everything on the thin flat screen or on a smartphone. As the per-page cost of inkjets declines, you can print something if you prefer to read it that way. Just not a lot, not yet.

Big printing presses and shiploads of giant newsprint rolls may become obsolete very quickly.

If so, kiss the daily newspaper, as it is now, goodbye.


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