As we witness the decline of the newspaper industry, I strongly question the commonly held belief that the reading public has proven conclusively that they won't pay for online newspapers. I think that they have shown that they don't want to read their newspapers on their computer. But computers aren't the only game in town these days, and I'm hopeful that Hearst Corp.'s plans to launch its own wireless e-reader device to bring newspapers and periodicals to the new format will show the way out of the wilderness.
I believe that the public will pay for an electronic newspaper if it is as convenient as a print one, meaning that the type must be crisp, the reading device must be easy to use and hold, and the price of the reader and the subscription must be reasonable. While I'm sure you immediately thought of Amazon's Kindle, that is only one of an oncoming flood of new generation e-readers that have already or soon will hit the market, including:
- Sony PRS-700
- Foxit eSlick
- Plastic Logic Pixelar
- iRex iLiad
- Fujitsu FLEPia
- Brother SV-100B.
Each will allow the subscriber to read the paper with an experience not far removed from the print version, and in some ways (convenience, immediacy, scope of content) even improved. The main holdup at the moment is the cost of the readers ($350 or more) especially the color versions ($1,000 or more) that most customers will demand if they are to accept this transition.
There is no ready substitute for the reporting of professional journalists, and many of us accept that we have to pay for it. By cutting out the cost of layout, printing and delivery, newspapers should be able to reduce operating expenses dramatically without depopulating the news room. Once readers can afford a high-quality e-reader, I believe that newspapers will be able to sell enough subscriptions to remain viable.
So the question is, will the technology arrive in time to save the industry? It could be a photo finish.