Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Future of the Newspaper

Anyone reading this blog knows that its focus is the publishing industry. While that usually means books, publishing also includes newspapers and magazines.

The daily newspaper is under attack on several fronts. Earlier this week B-to-B, an online marketing magazine, addressed the issue. "As readers and advertisers continue to migrate to the Web, newspapers have started to contract by reducing their size and jettisoning mainstays such as stock tables." The story quotes an industry expert who predicts that, over the next ten years, newspapers will become primarily online products.

Frank Ahrens, the media industry reporter for the Washington Post, examined the same issue in October. He interviewed Russ Wilcox, CEO of E Ink Corporation, a company that invented a precursor to the video newspaper used in the futuristic movie Minority Report. A commuter in the film is reading what looks like a full page version of USA Today, but it turns out to be a video screen. "In simplest terms, it's a thin membrane filled with black and white particles. When an electrical charge is sent through it along with digital text, the particles arrange into letters." Wilcox also made a ten-year prediction: he believes that a paper-thin portable video screen thin enough to fold will be available by 2015.

Well-known newspapers are trimming their size and moving more and more content to the Internet according to B-to-B. Effective in 2007, the Wall Street Journal plans to shrink from 15 inches wide to 12 inches, losing one column. "In an increasingly digital age, newspapers must decide what content is better suited for online than print." (B-to-B)

Over at the Post, Russ Wilcox disagreed. "We think the essence of the newspaper is the large size. You are a reader; you're an eagle flying over the desert, you're scanning. You see the rabbit and you zoom down and you grab it. That just happens to have a large display and it has to be portable."

B-to-B predicts that "With more people tracking the headlines and breaking news online, newspapers will probably start to look more like magazines. 'You're going to see more insight, color and features.'"

Once more, Wilcox takes a different approach: "I think that people should keep their eye (sic) on Wi-Max (the city-wide hotspots now rolling out.) The moment that, say, the city of San Francisco gets free Internet access, there will essentially be a free Internet newspaper. In a short time period a lot of people will be reading their news online--the only thing stopping them now is that a laptop is too heavy to carry around. They will roll out city-by-city and that's exactly how newspapers are organized. There will be a very sudden big change in the lives of newspapers when their city gets wired."

Stick around and we'll see.

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