Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Will global warming speed the rise of digital papers?

Since global warming has taken over as the top concern for Canadians, it got me wondering what some of spin-off effects of this attention might be. Some of those I've heard recently:
  • We might end up paying more for gas for our cars.
  • Industries that have struggled to go mainstream, like solar energy and wind power, may get a renewed lease on life.
  • Air travel could slide, as people reduce their travel to save the planet. (Really?)
  • Electric cars might not be dead after all.
  • The earth's temperature is going to rise, along with sea levels.
  • Weird weather might become the norm.
  • And a whole host of other things...
But one thing I haven't seen discussed much is what will happen to newspapers.

Think about it. Every day, about 40,000 trees are cut down in Canada to provide the newsprint for Canada's daily newspapers (according to this website.) That's a lot of natural resources for something that has a shelf life of about a day.

Add in the transportation costs to deliver, the productions costs to print, etc. and you can see that printing newspapers is not a climate-friendly operation.

Now factor in the fact that newspapers are already fretting about what the growth of the wired world means for their continued existence and I don't think it's much of stretch to believe that the time has come for e-readers to take on a renewed life.

By e-readers, I don't mean reading the news on your computer. An e-reader, like this one from Sony, are small devices, similar to handheld computers, but instead of a bulky LCD screen, they've got a thin display that shows the printed page. They really do look like a book, if that's what they're displaying, or a newspaper page. And unlike your PDA, the batteries last a long time.

Although e-books have been around for a long time, they've never really caught on. Same thing with electronic versions of newspapers. You can read an on-line version of the printed paper, but so far the experience hasn't been that great for most people.

But a renewed concern over climate change might be just the push necessary for this new technology to really take off. Could this be the "next big thing?"

If you're interested, here's an interesting article from the IEEE's Spectrum on-line edition, (the IEEE is one of the world's largest professional technology associations). The article examines the current state of digital delivery of newspapers and predicts that mainstream acceptance may be closer than we think.

Currently, several major news organizations in Europe and Asia are participating in test projects and several plan to move into a full subscriber implementation. Perhaps what's happening is not unlike what's happened with wireless phones, where Europe and Asia are well ahead of North America in terms of usage, especially in new applications, like SMS.

What makes it all possible is a revolutionary new product from E Ink Corporation, a spin-off from the famous MIT Media Lab. It's a flexible display technology that has been talked about and thrown around for years and now looks like it's going to take off in all kinds of ways.

I know there's something warm and fuzzy (and practical) about the current version of the daily paper. But I'm willing to consider that a lightweight, up-to-date version that I can carry with me all the time might be a good alternative.

What about you? Are you willing to give up paper in the morning?

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Donna Papacosta said...

Very interesting post and links, Dave. Thanks.

I really enjoy my Globe and Mail in the morning and a variety of other papers on the weekend, even though I check news online daily. Hmmm, would I be willing to switch to a portable e-reader to help save the planet? Yes.

Dave said...

I'm with you Donna. I am attached to my morning paper (and coffee) but I think I could switch, if something reasonable was available. The more I think about this, the more inevitable it appears. If I had any money, I'd be starting to think this might be a good investment...