Be aggressive with e-readers

Media companies should pay heed to two products that could help solve the woes that ail newspapers.

The products — e-readers — promise to be a flexible, portable, and electronic version of the current paper products — provided they work. The say they’ll be 8 ½ by 11, significantly larger than the current crop of e-readers like the Kindle, which are more suited for reading books. A larger screen could be more suited to a newspaper’s design.

Detroit recently announced a trial with one of the e-readers, the one made by Plastic Logic. Plastic Logic, through its website, is aggressively marketing its device. Unfortunately, there’s precious little information about exactly how it will work, when it will be available in trials and general release, how much it will cost, and the content distribution model. I recently attended a Plastic Logic demonstration, and it was clear the company is still trying to figure out the details while it touts its product.

More quietly, the Hearst-backed First Paper promises to come out with a similar product. While Plastic Logic is making as much industry noise as it can, First Paper is taking the opposite approach — it’s flying under the radar, sort of like the stealth reader.

Despite a number of important, unanswered questions, the media industry is buzzing about the potential of both products. A flexible, wireless device with a large-screen display that can accommodate a newspaper does have a certain appeal. (The devices also say users can add subscriptions to other newspapers and magazines, and check their email, too).

That appeal gets stronger as media companies look for ways to increase revenue and cut costs. Theoretically, if the adoption rate of these e-readers take off, newspapers can cut paper and distribution costs.

But I think that’s a ways off. In the interim, media companies should learn as much about these new digital devices as they can. They should be ahead of the game, like Detroit, and not bring up the rear. There are number of avenues for learning about the potential of these devices and whether they hold true promise for the industry, I’ll be blogging about these readers often.


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