March 11, 2009

The end of paper? - Don't hold your breath

I review this long, broad ranging article on the future of the publishing industry from CNN Money.

One of the many issues the article raises is that of format. If you've ever tried, it's not so easy to read a newspaper (as we know it) on a 5" or 6" diagonal screen. Zooming and panning across the broadsheet and up and down articles in a current newspaper layout is a pain. It does improve somewhat with a touchscreen.

What will happen? Will we continue to reformat newspaper and magazines down to smaller and smaller sizes, or will we make the display bigger and bigger?

A number of devices seem to be shooting for the A/A4 size display (~8.5" x 11") and if they can do reasonable quality and resolution between 200-300dpi then they will be usable for existing content formatted for printing at A/A4 size - such as all the legacy business documents in Word, PDF and other document formats.

However, a newspaper on a A/A4 size display at 200dpi will not be so readable. To read the smaller text, zooming and panning may still be needed.

Going beyond A/A4 size with a rigid display device that remains light and portable and robust will not be easy. Plastic "flexible" displays, even if mounted in a rigid frame, may enable larger sizes, while remaining robust. But they won't be easy to fold-up or roll-up and store like a normal newspaper.

So, it seems we're on a colision course: 
  • We'll see larger sizes, maybe some growth in resolution to somewhere between 200dpi and 300dpi (Seiko-Epson have demonstrated devices from the lab at 400dpi).
  • We'll see flexibility or plastic displays used to give robustness to larger sized displays
  • We may see some attempts at foldable devices along the lines of the READIUS, but larger, but the manufacturability of those technologies may delay their commercial availability
  • Lastly, we'll need to see some evolution of formats for newspapers and magazines to make them readable and navegable on these smaller displays.
Color? Color is an issue, and needed to get to some segments - such as magazines with their high-quality and colorful adverts. 

Advertising is critical for their business model and so magazines maybe the last to make it to the eBook world. Most existing approaches for reflective color displays aren't demonstrating a path to a compelling offering, and many approaches also reduce spatial resolution - going against the needs as discussed above, at least for a device for newspapers and magazines.

The article ranges over a number of other complex business model questions and doubts, and other aspects that make it a bit confusing and difficult to identify any particular aspect to focus on.

Botttom line: Let's see some of that innovative new display technology from Plastic Logic, Polymer Vision and others out in the market, and then we'll talk again. 

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