iPod for newspapers, but not yet

One day a device will do for newspapers what the iPod did for music. I haven’t seen it yet.

Mark Fletcher at the excellent Australian Newsagency Blog does a great job of warning people in his industry about the disruption they face from digital technologies. In a since-deleted post he points to a ComputerWorld story about the future of ePaper. The author says ePaper is “just around the corner”.

ePaper has potential. It could disrupt publishing business models which are already under attack from the internet. Australian, and other, newsagents need to keep an eye on how publishing technologies develop.

Just as iTunes has killed off record shops, a newspaper and magazine equivalent could reduce newsagencies to selling lottery tickets and bus cards.

It threatens everyone working in newspapers, magazines, books and related businesses.

Does ePaper threaten traditional media?

But I question whether ePaper is “just around the corner”. Moreover, I question whether this kind of ePaper is the most pressing threat.

I’ve been a professional technology writer since 1980. In that year I saw my first voice recognition system. I also saw the first example of what are sometimes now called electronic books.

The proud makers of the 1981 voice recognition device told me the hardware would be “ready for prime time” in two years. They promised keyboards would quickly be a thing of the past. In 2008 voice recognition technology is still around two years away from prime time.

Likewise, in 1981 electronic book makers were confidently predicting we’d soon be cuddling up at night with their hardware. To date I still haven’t seen anything as impressive or as easy to read as ink stamped or squirted on crushed, dead trees. One day we’ll get there – not yet.

In the meantime, the internet continues to build momentum delivering news and other information to desktops, laptops and handheld devices like Apple’s iPod-derived iPhone. Although none of these are anything like as satisfactory an as paper, people can and do use them to read news.

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