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iPod for newspapers, but not yet

One day a digital device will do for newspapers what the iPod did for music. We 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. He points to a ComputerWorld story about the future of ePaper, which the author says is “just around the corner”.

E-paper 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 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, related businesses and their associated food chains.

“Just around the corner” – yeah right

Yet ePaper is “just around the corner” is questionable. Claims like that can never be taken seriously until practical products hit the market.

Moreover, it is unlikely this kind of ePaper is the most pressing threat.

I’ve been writing about technology since 1980. In that year I saw my first voice recognition system and the first example of what we now call electronic books or ebooks.

The proud makers of the 1981 voice recognition device said their hardware would be “ready for prime time” within two years and keyboards would quickly be a thing of the past. In 2008 voice recognition technology is still around two years away from prime time.

Ebooks haven't hit take-off

Likewise, in 1981 electronic book makers were confidently predicting we’d soon be cuddling up at night with their hardware. It’s 2008 and to date there still hasn’t been anything as impressive or as easy to read as ink stamped or squirted on crushed, dead trees.

One day we may 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.