Thursday, March 26, 2009

BPN 1317 E-reader and journalism

This week I had an e-mail interview on e-readers with a student journalism. He had interesting questions. Below follows a translation of the questions and answers.

Q. What, in your opinion, has to happen in The Netherlands before the e-reader will be used by the masses?
A. A lot of things and habits will have to change.
a. Business. Companies involved with the e-reader should start to work together in marketing: the manufacturers and distributors of e-readers, newspaper and book publishers as well as software companies. Now they all work on their own and have small and not very impressive marketing campaigns. Like everything which has to do with new media in The Netherlands, it is all too fragmented.
b. Cultural. The present generations of 20 to 50 and 50+ have been educated to be ink sniffers and have not yet integrated the digital lifestyle in their daily life. They rather buy printed book and publishers and bookshops like to keep it that way.
c. Generations. As indicated above, it will take a long time before the e-reader will be used by masses; in The Netherlands the change over would be when 8 million (is 50 pct of the Dutch population) buy and use an e-reader. I have said in other interviews, that this will be in 2030 rather than in 2020. Just compare it with the portable PC. In 1983 I bought my first portable PC (Zenith Model 100 with 40k internal memory!). It is only in 2007 that more portable PCs have been sold than desk PCs. It took roughly 25 years before habits changed and portable PCs became accepted and common.

Q. Why is the e-reader a success in the US and not yet in The Netherlands?
There are a number of reasons.
a. Numerically is the population of the US (60 million people) larger than the Dutch population (16,5 million people);
b. The digital lifestyle in the US is further than in The Netherlands;
c. Culture in the US is not as much a tradition as in Europe;
d. The marketing is more effective. You can compare it to the marketing of the iPod device:
- Equipement is sexy, innovatief;
- Price equipment: 300 to 400 euro maximally;
- Effective download service;
- Broad portfolio;
- Reasonable Price for content;
- Promoter: trustful company.
Apple was well positioned to introduce the iPod. It produced sexy and innovative products and was able to set up a reliable service. Also Amazon was in that position, be it that the company was seen as a not-avoidable monopolist by publishers as Amazon is the equipment designer, format producer (Mobipocket) and distributer. This might change when the magazine publisher Hearst comes on the market with its e-reader of own design, own format and distribution in the fall of 2009. Hearst has promised to open up its format

Q. Do you think that the newspapers will change overnight from print to e-paper? Why or why not.
I do not see this happen. For this would mean that the printed word has grown more expensive than the electronic content and subscription and street sales have lost out.

Q. Do you think that printed papers will disappear at all?
Yes it is a clear calculation. In the present economy printed editions are kept alive by bundling titles, runs and subscriptions. But this will stop some day given the decrease of subscriptions and advertisements. As I said before: by 2030 (famous last words).

Q. What are the consequences for design, when a change-over from print to e-paper is made?
a. The format will be depended in the size of the screen;
b. Colours: presently screens are still black/white; colour is coming up.
c. Lay-out: the lay-out is intrinsically related to the size of the screen. This can be clearly seen with the lay-out of the French ePaper of the financial daily Les Echos en the ePaper of the Dutch NRC Handelsblad.

Les Echos did not stick to the lay-out of its printed edition. To give the reader the impression of the articles available, a horizontal ticker tape has been developed. The NRC Handelsblad has stuck to its print lay-out. As screens grow in size and get colour ePaper will stay close to the original print lay-out and division of sections. Larger screen, almost A4 size, are coming; iRex has already e-reader of that size and Plastic Logic is close to releasing its e-reader.

Q. What are the consequences for journalism with the change-over from print to epaper?
None. It is just another outlet for news. The ePaper will not really change anything for an editorial staff. It will not have any advantage for the news circulation. There is no change for the e-reader taking its material from a desktop PC. The wireless e-reader can pick up news more times a day like the electronic newspapers on internet. So there is no real change. The e-reader still has to catch up with the internet version of the newspaper in as far as colour and video.

Q. What are the changes for the editorial staff in order to make a successful change-over?
Nothing will change for the core editorial staff. There will only be changes for the internet editorial staff, as they have to serve another outlet.

Q. Do you think that the e-reader will deliver more readers to the newspapers.
No, not one reader. The e-reader will have to compete with other news outlets like radio, television and internet.

Q. What developments can we expect in the short term?
So far e-readers have developed on the waves of technology. The first e-reader by Sony in 1991 had a mini-disc of 200Mb. The second wave used internet with the PC as in-between station for the Rocket eBook in 1977. In 2006 the iLiad came on the market with wireless communication.
The coming changes will be incremental:
a. size of the screen to A4;
b. colours.
A successor to digital paper is being developed by Liquavista on the basis of the principle of electrowetting. The introduction will be in 2012 at the earliest, but more likely in 2015.

Q. What is your position with regard to the proposition below?
Daily newspapers should invest in electronic paper and change over from print to digital paper in the short run.
Nice proposition. I am personally convinced that newspapers should invest more in digital editions (internet, facsimile and ePaper). But newspaper managers are conservative. When in 1966 internet was on the increase
The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad invested 5 million euro in a print glossy monthly as supplement. This year the supplement has been abolished as non profitable. NRC Handelsblad had better used the 5 million euro for the development of formulae of digital editions.
But newspaper managers will not enforce a change-over to e-readers. It means that they will have to stop the expensive print presses and hand out e-readers for free. Besides the readership of 35+ will not like a change-over to e-readers as they are ink sniffers and lack digital skills.

Blog Posting Number: 1317

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