The i-pod Times?

by Jillian Burt

5 September 2007


The wailing about the death of the newspaper focuses on the diminishing editorial standards due to the lack of money flowing into the newspapers because of the dwindling sales of newspapers in their paper form and the migration of advertising to other, online forums. But I’ve seen the future and the newspaper looks electronic and more flexible there.

Plastic Logic flexible screen reader

Plastic Logic flexible screen reader

The newspaper is a remarkably enduring form, something of a mythological archetype. The blogosphere can seem like one enormous covalent bond glued together with permalinks to New York Times stories, and the hugely successful blog forum, Wordpress, on its second birthday recently, stopped merely listing the most popular blogs (the darkly humorous photographs of cats, I Can Has Cheezburger routinely tops the list) and rearranged its home page so that now resembles the International Herald Tribune, with selected posts listed as if they’re drawn from newspaper sections. What’s crucially missing is electronic newspaper hardware. Newspapers are currently trying to squeeze and transform themselves to fit devices that are alien to their style of presentation and their essential ephemerality and flimsiness. Plastic Logic, is working with a group of newspapers to develop a flimsy, flexible screen device. But Forbes magazine suggested, in April, that what’s probably needed is an impresario like Steve Jobs to come up with a sexy piece of simple newspaper hardware to bring the electronic newspaper to life.

Newspapers have attracted readers because they have content people value and respect. Less staff means fewer fresh stories and ad-sponsored columns diminishes the credibility that has been the industry’s calling card since the first newspapers hit the streets in the U.S. in 1690… So, if anyone is going to save the newspaper industry, it isn’t any of the moguls who think they can breathe life into a dying technology. It is more likely to be someone like Steve Jobs who can devise a really appealing way to make newspapers available digitally. Sony, Microsoft and others have tried to come up with digital readers but so far most people aren’t that excited. But suppose someone invented a digital newspaper, connected wirelessly to the Internet, that people actually enjoyed reading over coffee in the morning or taking along their morning train ride. …Make no mistake: The only way to stop the slide of the newspaper industry into oblivion is to replace the traditional paper “form factor” with a technology that can compete with pay-per-click, per-per-action and contextual advertising. Anything less will only accelerate the industry’s decline.

David Evans. Forbes. 24.4.07

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