Is this the future of newspapers? Maybe, maybe not…

A number of firms are looking at developing electronic devices to help do to the newspaper industry what the iPod did to help the music industry. Plastic Logic, News Corp. and Hearst have formed a partnership to develop an electronic reader similar to the popular Kindle, only in a larger size. The idea is to have reader that can replicate the size and feel of a newspaper so that paper elements, such as photos and advertisements, can be replicated. The cooperative effort is expected to begin sometime next year, according to the New York Times.

This week, Amazon, maker of the Kindle, announced it would create a similar device that would be on the market later this year. Like the Plastic Logic device, it would also be a larger format — basically the size of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper — and would also accommodate newspaper elements.

The idea is that once these devices are on the market, newspaper can sell their content in downloadable subscriptions to these consumers. Think of it, you can get your morning paper without stepping outside your front door.

Will this be the savior for the floundering industry? Not in this current thinking. While e-papers have the potential of creating a new reading experience for consumers, simply plopping a digital version of your ink-and-paper product won’t be the answer. Look at your readers? They like what you’re giving them now and — based on your age demographics — will probably be resistant to moving away from paper.

Now look at your non-readers. Why aren’t they picking up- newspapers? It’s not because they’re adverse to ink-and-paper. It’s what’s on it. It’s dated. It’s stagnant. It gives them nothing new.

If e-papers are going to work and be profitable, they are going to have to be as dynamic and relevant as your Web site. Think video. Think audio. Think 24/7 updating.

Think ‘Minority Report.’

In that movie, the copy of USA Today a commuter was reading on the subway changed its front page changed as he was reading it.

E-papers will need to be that, and more. They’ll need to interactive. If I want to comment on a story, I should be able to do that by pressing a button on the story. I should be able to play the 911 call on a murder story, or watch the video of a soldier returning to my hometown. If I see an interesting ad, I should be able to touch and it will bring up that merchant’s Web site. If I’m reading a movie review, I should be able to select a link that takes me to a listing of theaters where it’s playing, along with times and even a link to Fandango or similar ticket-purchasing site. A restaurant review? How about giving me a link to its Web site, and a way to make online reservations.

If I can fold it and put it under my arm for easy carrying, that would also be great.

That will sell e-papers.

Such a product would not only be valuable to potential readers, but to potential advertisers as well. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

UPDATE: WEDNESDAY, MAY 6: Amazon chief Jeff Bezos unveils the larger Kindle DX. At $500 with a black and white screen and limited interactivity, the major use will probably be for college students, as the new, bigger Kindle will be able to handle the more complex — and expensive — college textbooks.

However, the DX in its current form will most likely make publisher lean to providing the formatted print version in an electronic form. Which is sad, because what will be learned is that people don’t want the print version on an electronic sheet.

Reading a newspaper is more about getting information. It’s a sensory experience of visual and tactile cues. That does not translate onto an electronic screen.

For newspapers, the DX is a fax machine in an iPhone world. The iPhone experience is quite different, combining visual and tactile cues to create instant gratification — an item missing in the new Kindle. More will be needed from this product to create a reader experience that will make them “need” this format — and be willing to pay a premium for it.


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