Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The End?

In a recent post, the indomitable Kato wrote something very interesting.

I quote:

“…in terms of 'Net reporting a story is old 5 minutes after it has broken, and 2 days before mainstream media has picked up on it.”

This brings up a question:

In a world where we can get our news and entertainment instantly with a couple of mouse clicks, has the paper medium had its day?

If you consider the difference between a news article in the paper and on the internet, it’s pretty obvious which is the better, more efficient medium. With a newspaper, the article has to be written, laid out and edited to fill a particular amount of space, then printed, bound, transported and sold.

All of this takes time and money. When you consider the internet news article, it simply has to be written, proofread and posted. Now, not only is this much cheaper and easier, there are other benefits. As in Kato’s quote above, a story can be read by the public minutes after it has been written, instead of having to wait for the next edition to come out.

Forgetting the time and financial benefits as well, mainstream paper media is more prone to suffer from ‘advertisement censorship’. In other words, you can’t always write exactly what you want to, because some stories could upset your sponsors, without whom, the paper can’t really exist.

Articles can also be as long or as short as the writer wants them to be. In other words, they can always be long enough to do the story justice, and short enough to where a trivial story doesn’t have to be padded to fill the required space. This blog is a perfect example. I can write as much or as little as I think I need to on this topic…if I was limited to a thousand words, or told I have to write at least 3000, I’d have difficulty.

In my opinion, the only thing that is keeping paper media above water is the portability issue.

You see, we can abuse paper. We can take a magazine, roll it up and stuff it in a bag. Dropping a paperback or a magazine onto the floor won’t damage it…and even if it does get ruined, we’ve destroyed a dollars worth of paper, not a $1500 piece of hardware. Wireless networks and laptops are great, but it’s much easier to take out a newspaper on a train…and you don’t have to worry about a mugger holding you up for your magazine.

Finally, you don’t have to worry about the latest edition of your magazine running out of power when you’re halfway through your article.

Of course, in the near future, things may be different. Many companies already have prototypes of ‘electronic paper’. Paper thin displays that can be safely folded and bent. The technology also exists to electronically ‘print’ on electronic paper, making a semi-permanent display that doesn’t consume any electricity.

In other words, you download your magazine to a magazine made of electronic paper. The contents of the magazine appear on the pages, and a ‘locked’ there until you choose to erase it to make space for a new magazine.

Basically, what you end up with is a magazine that looks and feels like a standard magazine, but with all the benefits of internet speed and efficiency. It also gives rise to the win-win situation where magazine publishers could sell magazines for less and still make more money. Let’s say half the cost of a magazine is publishing costs. If a magazine producer switched to making their magazine available over the internet, for download to electronic paper, they can drop the cost to 2/3rds the regular price, and still be making 25% more than they did using paper media. (They’re selling for two thirds their old price, but each magazine costs half the amount to produce.)

One type of electronic paper I’m particularly interested in works like this:

You have a cardboard thin sheet of plastic (that houses the hardware), attached to two sheets of electronic paper. (Imagine a two page book with no front cover) On these two sheets you get the first two pages of your book or magazine, and when you flip back the first page, the pages re-write themselves to give you the next two pages.

In other words, you would read it exactly like a regular magazine, only the device can store multitudes of information. (Considering you can now buy XD memory cards for digital cameras that are about the size of a thumbnail that can hold two gigabytes of information… and you can fit a whole book into less than half a megabyte, technically, you would be able to carry every single book you own with you all the time.)

Of course, there are probably people out there who thinks that this is all science-fiction. A digital display that works like paper? Never. Pipe-dreams, that’s all. It’ll never happen.

However, considering that less than 15 years ago, the idea that you could fit an entire encyclopedia onto a single CD-ROM was ridiculous. Is it really that much of a stretch? Even just 6 or 7 years ago, it took my computer 10 minutes to render a 3D scene that my current computer can now do 6 times per second.

Put it this way, current mobile phones have more raw processing power than an old 286 computer.

So, when you look at it this way, I believe this technology is not ‘distant future’ stuff. It probably won’t be in stores by this Christmas, but five years? Maybe. Within the decade? Almost definitely.

So, it’s time to give your 2 cents.

Assuming when electronic paper arrives it’s everything it’s promised to be, will it spell the end of paper media?


MC Etcher said...


OzzyC said...

I suspect that newspapers and magazines will evolve or die, but there's something to be said for periodicals...

The internet is always about being "first," frequently at the expense of accuracy or critical details. TV and printed news have a built-in cushion that allows them to check their facts and/or expound on hot stories from a human interest point of view.

In the end, the credible web sites will slow down their reporting a tad (minutes or hours) in order to verify their stories' accuracy. Printed media will evolve to online, or texting stuff to the phone, and it will be subscription-based or ad-supported... not both.