Newspaper of the future: At least five years away?

In a lengthy article, Bill Richards, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, identifies hardware-based readers like Amazon’s Kindle as a potential saviour of the newspaper industry.

This is Alan Rusbridger’s “iPod moment” cast in a positive light — with plenty of accompanying maths.

The numbers contain one or two questionable assumptions, but that’s not the only thing to worry about.

First there’s the hardware cost: someone would have to give away hardware readers — like Kindle — for free, or close to free. In the US, Kindle currently costs $399. If costs halve on an annual basis for the next five years, we might be getting somewhere in terms of mass adoption.

Then there are myriad additional factors, including screen technology and the availability of ubiquitous mobile connectivity. The latter seems particularly tricky.

The idea of e-readers as a platform for mass news consumption is attractive. It has potential. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow, and in terms of newspaper economics, it’s tomorrow — or at least the next two to three years — that are really going to be crucial.

Read Bill Richards’ original article here. And here’s Roy Greenslade’s take on it.

Forbes seems keen on the whole idea. It delves into the technology developed by US technology company E Ink.

— “It doesn’t get much brighter than a dingy grey. . . That makes it tough to display colour images”

— “Screens redraw themselves at glacial pace. . . limiting animation and making video impossible”

According to Forbes, colour rendition should be available by 2009. Speeding up the redrawing of pages to 25 times its current speed should take five years or so.

The US technology company Qualcomm has a rival technology called Mirasol. It’s more advanced than E Ink in some respects. But Qualcomm doesn’t seem interested in forecasting when it might start producing a colour version.

The technology isn’t sufficiently far off to qualify as a pipe dream. But neither is it close enough to start laying serious plans.

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