Sunday, February 26, 2006

Digital newspaper fever

The newspaper tablet iLead of iRex Technologies is hitting the Dutch newspaper companies. It looks like every Dutch newspaper company wants to toy with the iLead. Wegener subsidiaries, Brabants Dagblad and Tubantia, are using the tablet in their user research project with Philips. Now PCM Publishers will start an experiment, while also De Telegraaf will participate. The newspaper companies are presently negotiating the conditions for the 390gr tablet.

(The excitement compares to Philips compact disc product CD-nteractivei in the beginning of the nineties. Producers were attracted by Philips to start producing titles. The book publishers, united in their association KNUB, even got a grant from the ministry of Economic Affairs, to produce some prototypes. A Handbook was produced but not completed and the prototypes never got a commercial successor. It looks like something of this national pride is spreading again. But with CD-i it was a hype based on technology ignorance; this time the interesting digital paper is more realistic and based on commercial perspectives. And why should a newspaper company not warm itself, when it sits geographically close to the fire.)

In Belgium the 200 guinea pigs of De Tijd will receive the tablet for a quarter to test. They will be able to pick up the latest news from hot spots in the city and in the train. They can adapt the information to their personal interest and save articles of personal interest (not exactly a convincing argument as they already can do so on internet). The newspaper management of De Tijd expects to have De Tijd in electronic form by September.

It will be interesting to see what the results are going to be of all the research into e-papers. Annemieke Besseling, the succeeding editor-in-chief of the Brabants Dagblad, already made a statement that she does not see the electronic paper as a successor of the printed edition, arguing that a reader will not stare at a small screen to read long articles. This is a typical biased reaction for a newspaper editor: print will always remain and reading habits will never change. This is of course nonsense. Given the present decline in newspapers subscriptions, by 2015 some printed editions of newspapers will have disappeared as they did not longer have an economic basis; so, the publishers better start preparing for an all electronic edition with a printed edition while it lasts. Besides the reading habits are changing drastically. In the printed world broadsheets like Metro have made an impact, not only because they are free, but also because they contain short articles. And children, who are supposed to be the future subscribers, are reading less printed newspapers, but pick up news in parallel from radio, television and internet.

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