Saturday, September 13, 2008

Will the Plastic Logic reader save both trees and the newspaper industry?

We already know the's Kindle and the Sony eReader, but how about a electronic reader with a large portable screen that is designed especially for newspapers? sounds like a futuristic dream? not any more. Please meet the Plastic Logic reader.

The New York Times reported last Sunday ("New E-Newspaper Reader Echoes Look of the Paper") on this new device, which was presented lately at the DEMO conference in San Diego by Plastic Logic and will be offered for sale in the first half of 2009.

Eric A. Taub reported in this article that "the device, which is unnamed, uses the same technology as the Sony eReader and’s Kindle, a highly legible black-and-white display developed by the E Ink Corporation."

Differentiated by a stunning form factor (the size of 8.5 x 11-inch paper), the Plastic Logic reader features a big readable display. Yet it’s thinner than a pad of paper, lighter than many business periodicals, and offers a high-quality reading experience. It's mainly targeted for business users, but it definitely has the potential to become the e-paper preferred device for reading newspapers.

No price is quoted yet for the Plastic Logic reader, but it's not going to be cheap. Steven Glass, head of user experience for Plastic Logic is quoted in Fortune saying "The point is to be able to deliver this at a price more in line with the current crop of e-readers like (Amazon’s) Kindle which sells for around $349.” But let's say the price will fall eventually and become reasonable. Can such a device be significantly beneficial for newspapers and no less important to the environment?

For newspapers it can be definitely the light at the end of the tunnel - many of them suffer of financial problems and look for ways to cut costs as the number of copies sold are dropping. Using Plastic Logic or iLiad can save them tons of money - according to the article, The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, print and delivery expenses amount to 65% of the paper’s fixed expenses. Just think what this kind of savings can contribute to a newspaper's P&L.

If we look at it from environmental angle, we can ask ourselves whether these newspaper e-readers are superior in comparison with the printed newspaper. We know it saves trees and transportation, but is it really better for the environment? usually with e-books the answer is that we don't know yet as no thorough life cycle analysis was made yet to compare between the options. But here somebody already did it.

Researcher Asa Moberg and her team of the Center for Sustainable Communications at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden studied the environmental effects of producing print versus electronic newspapers, both on the Internet and by using the iRex Iliad. The results were published last year and the conclusion was as follows:

"The ranking from an environmental point of view was in general the tablet e-paper and the web based newspaper with a shorter reading time (10 min), was giving rise to a lower environmental impact than than the printed version. With a reading time of 30 minutes/day the environmental impact of the web based newspaper was in general in the same range as the printed newspaper environmental impact."

The research also reports that "the production of the tablet e-paper device was the single largest part of the total environmental impact of the tablet e-paper newspaper life cycle. Editorial work, and for some impact categories also the incineration of parts of the electronic device (plastic waste) contributed to the rest of the environmental impact."

The Morgan and her team finds the e-paper device better than print and similar to reading the newspaper over the Internet. No research was made yet about Plastic Logic but following this research my guesstimation is that the results would be similar if not better for the electronic option.

Now the only question would be - will customers adopt this new device or continue with their current habits - reading it in print or over the Internet? Only time will tell but we sure hope these new technologies will help eventually both the environment and the bottom line of newspapers to get better.

More on E-paper devices:

Raz @ Eco-Libris