Electronic newpaper could revolutionise media

Over the last two weeks, ten households in Sundsvall in northern Sweden have been charged with the task of evaluating a state-of-the-art e-paper prototype that may come to revolutionise the newspaper industry, Dagens Nyheter reports.

Selected readers of Sundsvalls Tidning were asked to download the newspaper twice daily onto an e-reader – a flat, paperback-sized device with an electronic paper screen. The latest edition of the newspaper became available to the trial group at 7 p.m. and midnight every day.

“I am involved because I like technological progress. The newspaper is outdated as a product. It is often six to eight hours old by the time it comes through your door,” tester Joacim Söderström told Sundsvalls Tidning.

It currently takes between three and four minutes to download the full newspaper from the internet.

The e-reader contains more than twice as many pixels per square inch as a conventional computer screen. Thanks to electronic ink technology the e-reader has something of the appearance of ordinary paper.

Unlike a backlit computer screen, e-paper reflects light in the same way as regular paper and can be read in any light and at any angle. The e-reader is also energy-saving in that it only draws on electricity for page changes.

Despite some early teething pains, all testers remained on board for the duration of the project. A similar experiment in Belgium ended in tears: technical glitches led to 61 out of a total 65 testers returning their e-readers within two weeks.

“Everyone remembers what the first mobile phone looked like,” said Svenåke Boström, project manager at Sundsvalls Tidning.

“They were big heavy monstrosities that didn’t always work. But this trial that we have just completed seems to have gone rather well.

“Nobody has come along with their little machine and quit the experiment,” said Boström.

Dagen Nyheter points to the e-reader’s diminutive size as a potential disadvantage, even though it is possible to enlarge the text dimension.

Its size can however also be viewed as one of the e-reader’s advantages. On an aeroplane the reader has the benefit of not requiring elbow room. And since it does not contain a sender or receiver, there are none of the restrictions associated with mobile phones.

Carina Ihlström Ericsson, a leading researcher at Halmstad University, has conducted extensive interviews with all of the participants. She will be ready to present her evaluation of the project in the new year.

“From what we have heard, the e-reader is difficult to navigate and the technology still has its limitations. But all going well it should be possible to subscribe to a newspaper with the e-reader. It will maybe cost about the same as a normal subscription.

“Later, when the system becomes more developed, it will of course be possible to subscribe to several newspapers,” Ihlström Eriksson told dagens Nyheter.

Sundsvalls Tidning meanwhile has high hopes for the future of its pet project.

“By the end of next year I hope that we will be able to offer all our customers a faster and better e-reader with a colour screen. Maybe it will be the Christmas gift for 2007,” said Svenåke Boström.