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Archive for October 31st, 2008

The future of paper

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Looking forward (and I’m not much of a futurist), I expect that one of the key technological developments of the next decade will be the improvement of electronic paper display technology.  Low cost technology to provide digital imaging of text and images on paper-like readers will bring to life the potential of digital content.   True integration of multi-media will occur and what we now know of as the book will be altered radically.  One need only think of the newspapers in the Harry Potter series to think about where we are probably headed.  Many people frequently note that the first applications of new technology often look and feel like the old technology.  We currently are in that stage with electronic books and electronic media – although this is changing slowly.  

Earlier this month at the International Meeting on Information Display (iMiD), Samsung demonstrated the world’s first carbon nanotube-based color active matrix electrophoretic display (EPD) e-paper.From Samsumg’s press release:

“Electrophoretic displays offer inherent advantages over traditional flat panel displays due to their low power consumption and bright light readability, making them well suited for handheld and mobile applications. Since they can be produced on thin, flexible substrates, EPD’s also are ideally suited for use in e-paper applications.

Unlike conventional flat panel displays, electrophoretic displays rely on reflected light, and can retain text or images without constant refreshing, thereby dramatically reducing power consumption.”

 

Of course, Samsung isn’t the only player in this market and there are many others developing e-paper technology. However, for those not regularly involved in the display technology space, there is a great deal of activity taking place there.  Since a good portion of publisher and library investments are in paper, focusing on what is changing in the future of display is an area we should be paying closer attention to. 

In September, Esquire magazine released its 75th anniversary issue with an electronic paper cover.  Here’s a video of how it looked. The technology was provided by E Ink Technology, the same company that produced display screen for the Amazon Kindle. The cover price for the digitial cover was only $2.00 more on the newsstand, but I expect this hardly covered the costs. Ford likely underwrote much of the costs with an inside front-cover ad using the same technology. However, the USA Today reported that the issue contained more ads than any other issue in the past 11 years. If one were looking for an exciting new trend in an otherwise depressed world of magazine or newspaper publishing, this might be a start. 

What will be fascinating is watching how this new technology develops — I’m sure in fits and starts — over the next decade.  It will have a profound impact on the production and sharing of infromation as well as the existing business models for selling information.  The clunky-ness of the current generation of e-book readers led a third of those responding to a survey Library Journal conducted at the Frankfurt Book Fair to say that “digital content would never surpass traditional books sales”.   This might have something to do with the response that “almost 60 percent of respondents said they do not currently use ebooks and e-readers at all.” 

While the transition to ebooks, might not take place in the next decade, I think e-paper display technology will advance quickly and the transition will take place sooner than we all think.