Roger Fidler, presently Director of Technology Initiatives at the Reynolds Journalism Institute (Columbia, Missouri), has been exploring and engineering the electronic tablet newspaper for over a decade. After years of cautious experimentation and limited interest from the industry, he now sees the breakthrough years approaching. “With the arrival of new generations of eReaders and improved, dedicated software, new ways of journalistic newshandling and distribution are becoming imperative”, he assesses.
This time, that quest should have sufficient critical mass.
Fidler has taken the initiative for a joint R&D venture called the Digital Publishing Alliance, a member-supported initiative which brings innovative editors, technology experts, researchers and consultants together to pursue a range of novel digital publishing products. Meanwhile, over twenty American newspapers have signed up for the DPA, including well-known brands such as the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press.
Fidler has been a pioneer in electronic newspaper reading for many years. He produced demo e-versions of several papers and developed the eMprint digital publishing model, a standardised set of conventions for electronic publishing on flat-panel PCs and mobile eReaders. The package is PDF-based, platform-independent and combines the familiar characteristics of printed publications with the interactive features of the web (on-screen reading, no scrolling, trusted page design principles but interactive navigation). With this model, over 15 so called Digital Newsbooks have been produced, to demonstrate but also to serve as a superior way of storing, distributing and retrieving special reports or monographs. Fidler: “My objective is to bring together the strengths of printed publications with the compelling features of the web, in a way that would provide readers with a comfortable, high-quality reading experience as well as a visually rich environment for interactive storytelling.” A good and relevant example is the December 2006 issue of The Global Journalist (www.globaljournalist.org).
In his present work, Roger Fidler also turns to the hardware side of digital publishing. Especially evaluation and testing of the e-ink devices companies like Sony and iRex have launched receive a lot of attention. Fidler: “The e-ink eReaders have a great potential, be it at first as a niche market. The outstanding reading capacities and low energy demand make it a perfect tool for repackaging print content for mobile use. But there are also reasons for concern (hence scope for improvement of the reading panes): no colour so far, the technology doesn’t allow for motion (so, no streaming), and with a consumer price in the range of $ 700 (€ 600), it will be a tough sell for a ‘nice to have’ device.”
What seems to unfold, says Fidler, is a layered, differentiated market for mobile reading. “Although print will always remain a platform, it will no longer be the base. The successor carrier is not necessarily the web (or web-based electronic editions), but also the mobile platforms which combine print and web features. I see three types of mobile use emerging, each with a dedicated device. First there will be the personal communicator, mobile (smart) phone for emailing and messaging. Then, the ultra-thin PCs will become the preferential mobile work stations for full-text and other demanding applications. Third, we will have the eReaders which highlight versatility, storage capacity and extreme ease of use.”
Before mobile electronic reading becomes the default application, serious R&D, user assessment, improvement of the gear and serious uptake by the industry must happen. The Digital Publishing Alliance Fidler is setting up, is a good way of sharing insights a well as development costs. The same counts for the European R&D projects mentioned in the first two contributions of this series. A challenge to the professional bodies would be to connect, where possible dovetail these and other (Asian) research efforts and make them accessible to a wider professional audience.
For the DPA and its projects, contact Roger Fidler at firstname.lastname@example.org
For information about eReader trends and projects, contact email@example.com
Source: written by Jan Bierhoff, Director of European Centre for Digital Communication