Archive for the 'Future of Paper' Category

NY Times Reader

September 13th, 2006 by Hugh

I’ve just signed up to try out the New Times’s Times Reader as soon as it becomes available. Wired News has already had a preview of the software:

The Times Reader, which will soon be released as beta software, is a souped-up version of “real” paper by way of tomorrow’s web technology. The application attempts to provide an onscreen reading experience that is as familiar as the printed page, only more versatile and interactive.

I find it quite hard to get a feel of what the Times Reader will be like from Wired’s description – but it seems that you will able to browse a frequently updated RSS feed like a newspaper, from the front page to the back, and the pages will refresh immediately. In essence, it will look and feel like the paper edition of the New York Times. The reader is being built with Microsoft’s latest technology. It will take advantage of Windows Vista’s new visual capabilities. There will be a service pack for Windows XP that will enable it in advance of the much delayed new operating system.

Microsoft’s efforts in this direction have already been attacked by blogger Jeff Jarvis. He believes that news should (and is becoming) disaggregated, in the sense that you can hop from one news provider to the other for each story. This is what Google News is doing. It’s breaking up the hierarchy of news publishers.

Still, it seems to me that nothing on screen yet beats the enjoyment of reading a real newspaper. And I’m somebody who spends a good chunk of my day using an RSS reader. I jump around the “disaggregated” world of news because I’m scouring for stories. It’s what I call “work”. I still buy a morning newspaper, and enjoy my half an hour of peace and quiet on the sofa with the “real thing.” What bothers me most about print is that the price keeps on going up – otherwise I would probably buy more than one newspaper. But there’s no way that I’m going to sit at my hot computer for pure relaxation – unless, that is, the Times Reader is really very good. I’ll let you know when I’ve tried it.

Memory Stick Homework

September 13th, 2006 by Hugh

Kids in the South of France are going back to school this term with memory sticks that they will use to carry their homework back and forth. The sticks will also be pre-loaded with selected school texts. According to The Times:

Every September there is an outcry from parents as children stagger back to school under the load of new books. College, or junior secondary pupils, typically carry about 10kg (22lb) in their cartables (satchels). Primary children carry 4-6kg.

It’s a small step from a memory stick to a scanner pen.

Telegraph: Click and Carry

September 12th, 2006 by Hugh

Telegraph 4pmI mentioned recently that Britain’s Daily Telegraph has designed its new office for the multi-media age. Now it’s launched its new evening paper in down-loadable PDF format. It calls the concept “Click and Carry” and it’s designed to print out on A4 so that you can run it off on the office printer and read it on the train home. If you are reading it online, you will find video and audio options, including an audio / video slideshow. Telegraph pm is published at 4pm each day. Look for it in the right column of the Telegraph’s sleek website.

The Telegraph has perfectly combined the advantages of both of digital and paper – but it does so in the reverse fashion to Exbiblio. Under the Exbiblio vision, you buy the paper version, you take out your scanner pen on the train, capture some signature text, dictate some notes into the pen, and then later, when you sit down at your computer, your scanner pen takes you to the digital version. When you live in a Telegraph world, you go to the computer first, and then if you want to read it on the train, you print off a copy. You underline anything that you want to note for later with your ball-point pen. So we have two visions, each a perfect inverse of the other. Which is seeing the world the right way round? I have to admit that the Telegraph’s logic has a lot to be said for it. It’s the way we behave now. Many of us graze articles on the the Internet, but print longer pieces that we might want to read in depth or notate. Exbiblio is asking people to change their behaviour. Your views please….

Amazon Unbox

September 8th, 2006 by Hugh

I mentioned recently that Amazon might be going into the video download business. Now it’s made its move with a service called Amazon Unbox. Dave Taylor does a good walk-through of the service.

Amazon is becoming the hub for both digital and paper media, and as Robert Scoble mentions, it is pushing out innovations as fast as Google does. If anyone is in a strong position to make links across the divide between paper and digital, it’s Seattle’s biggest books store.

The Multi-Media Newspaper

September 7th, 2006 by Hugh

If you want a glimpse of the newspaper of the future, you could do no better than take a tour of the Daily Telegraph’s new offices in London. The UK Press Gazzette has been inside the new Telegraph.

In keeping with the Exbiblio vision, paper and digital content will live happily side by side. All print journalists will be put through multi media training courses, and some specialist video journalists will be recruited. The Editorial Managing Editor, Will Lewis, says the Telegraph will develop an entirely new type of journalist.

“There’ll be no old media versus new media, them and us”.

The Telegraph will offer down-loadable PDFs of some its articles that will contain embedded video and audio. This is the sort of content that Exbiblio plans to enmesh inside a paper document by use of its hand-held scanner.

Google’s Newspaper Archive

September 6th, 2006 by Hugh

Newspaper archives going back 200 years are now available to be searched on Google. Some newspapers, such as The Guardian have opened up their historic content for free. Others such as the Washington Post will charge for downloads of old news. Here’s an article from Time about the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and here’s one from the Guardian about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Meanwhile some leading bloggers have been saying that they’ve given up reading newspapers in paper form. Robert Scoble agrees with his former colleague at Microsoft, Don Dodge, that using an RSS reader allows him to absorb so much news that he doesn’t need to read the “dead trees”. But the fact remains that RSS – which provides an amazingly convenient way to skim the Internet – hasn’t caught on with the wider public.

The TouchBook

September 5th, 2006 by Hugh

Jason Barkeloo, president of Somatic Digital, has a vision that is strikingly close to Exbiblio’s. He concludes a recent post for the AlwaysOn community site saying:

I think the great step forward will be clipping the printed page to a device that will enable the print to become the navigation portal to the digital world…

And it’s more than a just a nice idea. Somatic already has its own “device” to hand: the TouchBook.

The TouchBook™ platform, through the use of Touch User Interface (TUI) technology, enables a reader to press the pictures and words on the regular printed ink and paper page and retrieve digital content from an appliance. This technology, in essence, turns the printed material into a remote control to digital content.

You will find more detail in the PDF brochure. but I think the concept is demonstrated most clearly in this short video of seven-year-old Tommy using a TouchBook. He presses an icon in his book, and a song plays on his laptop.

Just to remind readers – I’m an outside blogger and am not involved in developing Exbiblio’s products – and so I would be fascinated to find out what the Exbiblio team makes of the TouchBook. It would also be great to hear what Jason Barkeloo makes of Exbiblio’s approach to bridging the divide between paper and the digital world.

Who Killed the Newspaper?

August 29th, 2006 by Hugh

The Economist The Economist is asking “Who killed the Newspaper?” – and perhaps only a little prematurely.

Unlike the book publishing industry, which seems to be doing fine for the moment, newspapers have undergone traumatic times as they’ve lost their share of the advertising market, down from 36% in 1995 to 30% in 2005 according to iMedia. It’s no mystery where the advertising revenues have gone: Google recently reported a 77% increase in earnings over the same period the previous year. Even worse, Craig’s List offers classifieds – a mainstay of newspaper revenues – for free – and few can compete with “free.” The biggest bright spot for newspapers is that visitor numbers to their online versions are growing fast.

In the UK, The Guardian has seen online revenues grow by about 50% a year, and its editor, Alan Rusbridger, has said he can see the time coming quite soon when they will outstrip print revenues. The Guardian even breaks news stories on the web, rather than holding onto them tightly for the morning edition. In response to the Economist’s gloomy story, Rusbridger said:

“I think the next few years are going to be very expensive for newspapers, there is no doubt there is a decline in circulation and there is a decline in advertising revenue because both are going to the web….

“They are also going to have to spend large sums of money investing in the web and new technology. I’m not convinced that everyone is going to make it.”

A big problem for newspapers is that online readers do not bring in the same revenues as commuters on the train. The Economist cites ratios ranging from 1 /10 to 1/100 for their comparative values. People tend to hop around the net, from one news-provider to another. There is also the danger that aggregators like Google News will grab revenues. Newspaper like the Guardian and The Telegraph have tried to tap the social media phenomenon with ambitious blog and podcast projects, giving readers full scope to participate and and therefore stay loyal to their sites.

Financial newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have tried subscription models, which may work for specialist content – but most people have come to expect news for free: It’s just another commodity. Another response is to beef up the print editions with things that don’t work well online – like features and human interest, which can be more original and unique than news. My impression is that UK newspapers are well ahead of their US counterparts here, especially at the top end of the market – but still it’s not enough to stop the rot.

All this adds up to a big effort by newspapers to follow the money online. Many now see the web as their future. Exbiblio is running rather counter the trend with its ideas to help publishers make paper more attractive, both to the newspaper owners and to readers. It certainly sounds like an attractive proposition to have hyperlinks on printed paper – but it has to be remembered that click-throughs bring in pennies, not mega-bucks like display ads.

Digital Stores

August 22nd, 2006 by Hugh

Tower Records – the mega-store music chain – has has filed for protection from its creditors for the second time in two years. It is, of course, a victim of digital downloading.

A few years back, when Amazon started to loom large, there were predictions that bricks and mortar book stores would go out of business – but so far plenty of people still like to turn paper pages before they buy. This seems to show that readers enjoy buying a physical product.

Now Amazon itself is threatened by the trend to go digital. The Economist predicts that Amazon is preparing to go into the download business. It might be too late to dominate music, but the field is still fairly open for video and, perhaps further off, for digital downloads of books.

Amazon is already involved in a new technology for book publishing. It owns a print-on- demand service called Booksurge. Currently this is an option for self-publishing authors, but Amazon hopes to sell its printing service to mainstream publishers.

Under the print-on-demand model, the author uploads a digital manuscript to Booksurge. A paper copy is printed from the digital file only when a customer buys one. It’s a reminder that these days paper books have their digital shadows sitting on the publisher’s computer. The gap between the two media is closer than we often remember.

Soon, a large online retailer, whether it’s Amazon, iTunes, or another business, will be a repository of digital books, video, and music. It’s only a short step to inter-mesh related products together into multimedia packages. You can envisage a digital book that, instead of an illustration, has a short video on the page. It’s possible that you might be reading this off an eye-friendly screen that you can fold into your pocket. But given that many people still love the aesthetics of physical paper, the vision becomes even more intriguing when one of the elements in the package is paper containing live hyperlinks.

Campus Walk

August 17th, 2006 by Adam

Student at LibraryYesterday, Ed Mahlum and I spent a couple of hours walking around our old stomping grounds at the University of Washington to observe how people interact with both print and digital documents. We visited computer labs, libraries, and coffee shops. Here are a few random observations:

  • Librarians are very helpful and like to answer questions! Among other things, we were pointed to a site containing survey results on UW library usage and given direct contact information of those in charge of technology, library usage statistics, etc…
  • Computer labs at UW Campus were about 75% Dell / 25% Mac. I’m sure one of our new contacts could give us an exact count on this, but that is what it looked like to me.
  • The campus computer store and the people using laptops in free WiFi areas seem to be weighted the other way (about 75% Mac / 25% PC)
  • There is a lot of free WiFi on or near campus.
  • People we observed using computers were usually doing e-mail, on MySpace type web sites, or composing Word documents. We also saw someone using Wikipedia and a few people playing games. We wondered how folks go about installing their own software (games, for example) on computer lab machines.
  • Not many people were reading material on computers besides the activities above.
  • A librarian told us that eBooks were not popular with Librarians or students because of the archaic DRM restrictions.
  • The library will not subscribe to document databases (of academic papers or newspaper archives, for example) that restrict printing in any way. These databases are usually an annual subscription fee.
  • There was a good selection of flash drives and voice recorders at the campus computer store.
  • An employee of the campus computer store said that very few people want to buy scanners. He had a price sheet for some flatbed and multi-function scanners, but none in stock.

All in all, I think it is great to get out of the office and into environments where people will be using our products. If we choose to focus on higher education as a starting point (which is a strong contender), I think it would be cool to move our office to a major campus so that we have many more opportunities to cross paths with our target audience on a daily basis. Maybe we could even go Delicious Monster style and set up shop in one of the Free WiFi areas of campus!

Ed, I encourage you to chime in with other observations if I missed anything. You can see pictures from our trip here.