Prepare for new electronic readers

Are electronic reader devices the saviour of the news industry or an amusing detour on the journey to the edge? This is either the beginning of a really exciting new age, or a waste of time: wish I knew which.

The Detroit News is getting ready to start using a new lightweight large-format electronic paper, based on a device from the firm Plastic Logic, says E&P. “As part of its March 30 conversion to Web-centric distribution, Detroit Media Partnership said it will launch a trial with Plastic Logic to distribute the firm’s yet-to-be-released electronic display to readers who want to access electronic editions of The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.” The Hearst newspaper group has already been reported to be preparing to launch a similiar initiative.

There is a lot of excitement over electronic readers, as in this piece by Business Week. “Designed with the requirements of newspapers and magazines in mind, they will feature larger screens (to make it easier to navigate through stories), wireless updating (something the Kindle has made a requirement), better image resolution, and eventually color and video.” The BBC has a nice package about it here.

And Plastic Logic has fans. “We think Plastic Logic has a chance to nab this new market,” says Wired. “It’s got a couple things going for it. First of all, a touchscreen, which is clearly the direction the industry is moving in. The iPhone set this precedent. Second, the size. Smaller form factor isn’t necessarily convenient or practical for every gadget – especially for a reader, which you’re going to be holding and staring at for hours and hours. That’s why Plastic Logic’s notepad size is its strongest selling point. Imagine how much easier it would be to hold and read one of these while sitting on a bus.”

This isn’t a magic bullet, as this piece by the NYT points out. “Papers face a tough competitor: their own Web sites, where the information is free. And they have trained a generation of new readers to expect free news.” Scepticism is also expressed in this piece on ZDnet.

I can see myself with one of these; I can also see myself losing it, breaking it, leaving it at home etc. None of these matter with a newspaper which is one of the joys of the thing.

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