Have You Started Planning for E-Paper?
Sometimes I think our industry tries to predict the future by looking at the past and assumes that if its holds its collective breath long enough, the conditions will remain constant. This is like driving a car by looking in the rear-view mirror. Where you have been is not necessarily a good predictor of where you are going. But it can be enlightening, if you know where to look.
Let’s, for a paragraph or two, intentionally look in the rear-view mirror. In the 1970s, magazines were still setting type using hot lead. In the early 1980s, long-run magazines were still printing with letterpresses—the same letterpress technology Gutenberg invented 500 years ago. In the 1990s, we learned to make digital plates that gave us unheard of speed and accuracy. Now, in the 21st century, we have adapted into an entirely new phase of publishing, exploring new and more effective ways of distributing information in the digital universe.
We now have the ability to deliver information to multiple platforms in an instant and on a global basis. We must no longer consider ourselves publishers, printers, journalists and media professionals; we are information distributors.
New information delivery methods, combined with the potential for customization, promise to level the playing field for the industry’s established players.
E-paper ‘Ready for prime time’
One of the most exciting developments in the delivery of our franchised content is e-paper. What is e-paper? Or, perhaps I should start with, what is it not? It is not an electronic simulation of a magazine. It is not downloaded facsimiles of printed magazines, although that is an offshoot of what e-paper can produce.
E-paper is essentially a technology. To the publishing community, it will provide an electronic substrate that can be connected to the Internet and acts as an alternative to traditional paper. It’s not a replacement for all paper, but much that is printed could be reproduced by e-paper.
E-paper, in general, uses thin, lightweight displays that simulate the form and flexibility of traditional paper while providing the immediacy of a computer screen. It is a thin layer of transparent plastic that contains millions of small microcapsules randomly dispersed. When a voltage is applied to the sheet’s surface, the microcapsules move to present one side to the viewer according to the polarity of the charge. So, in order to display text, microcapsules targeted to serve as the “ink” would move to the top of the sheet.
Importantly, the beads do not require a constant voltage to hold their position. Electronic ink allows a fixed image to remain on the screen even after the power source is shut off.
Companies are developing mass-production techniques for these materials that would allow them to be manufactured inexpensively in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, Plastic Logic Ltd. (www.PlasticLogic.com) is investigating locations for a large-scale manufacturing plant for its flexible-plastic electronics displays. A director of the company says it's “ready for prime time.”
Many of the devices we take for granted today, such as handheld computers, digital cameras and color printers, were once in the realm of science fiction. E-paper is not science fiction.
Is this in your business plan?
When e-paper is finally perfected will it mean the death of the printing press? Not by any means. But it will mean the end to the status quo and the creation of yet another parallel universe in the digital information age.
The future of publishing is actually something we create with our minds, our technologies, our will and our unique business plans.
Bob Sacks is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, “Heard on the Web.”