Color commentary on E-Ink and e-readers
I filled the pop-culture void that came with growing up in a remote area pre-Internet with subscriptions to magazines like Interview and Seventeen. I remember the excitement of receiving these publications in the mail—the feel of the glossy paper and hidden treasures in the form of perfume and makeup samples. With that, I can imagine the fondness that magazine publishers have developed for the books they labor to produce, and how hard it must be to offer these products on emerging digital platforms such as e-readers. (More on e-ink and e-readers)
The problem with e-readers such as Amazon's gray-scale E-Ink Kindle is that the audience loses the impact of a magazine’s beautiful rich color images. But fear not—the race is on to provide color e-readers that are reasonably priced now that E Ink Corporation—the company responsible for the standard E-Ink screen—is being acquired by one of its partners, Prime View International (PVI), reportedly for $215 million and 120 million convertible shares of PVI. The deal means that a lot more money will be thrown at the effort to meet the right consumer price point for color E-Ink e-readers.
We’ve been waiting awhile. Back in 2005, E-Ink Corp. unveiled a prototype color e-reader, but the Sony Reader, which uses E-Ink, debuted commercially in January 2006 with a gray-scale screen. Why didn't Sony go for a color E-Ink screen? Perhaps the company couldn't get around the cost. After all, three years later, Japanese consumer sales of Fujitsu's FLEPia color e-reader began at around $1,000 per device. (Note to manufacturers and retailers: I will never, ever pay $1,000 for something that I will inevitably drop repeatedly, spill something on, and/or leave in the subway.)
Newspaper publishers are preparing now for widespread e-reader use by getting in bed with e-reader manufacturers (Hearst with Skiff a.k.a. FirstPaper and Gannett with Plastic Logic, maker of the QUE reader, both of which will be shown at CES this week) to steer design toward their needs—a rich interface that can display content and ads. But the question remains, will e-reader manufacturers deliver on magazine publishers' needs?
Barnes & Noble's Nook (more reasonably priced than the FLEPia at $259, but back-ordered until February) flirts with color by offering a full-color touch screen below its standard gray-scale E-Ink screen. But that isn't likely to satisfy publishers' desire to see their brands be the best digital magazines they can be. The shade of the sweater for fashion magazines, the hue of the feather for nature books—these are what passionate content curators need rendered accurately by e-readers.
Asus' Eee Reader, which may or may not include two side-by-side (book style) color screens, won't materialize until later this year, and its price (rumored to be low) is yet to be announced, but the device's design could be just the ticket for magazine publishers. (Check out the Eee Reader blog for updates.)
Beyond digital editions
While the color e-reader pickings are slim now, experts predict mass-market use and, as the technology moves toward a lower price point, even e-paper giveaways in the next two to five years. E-Ink's technology is widely used for signage, and eventual opportunities for publishers could include color E-Ink fueled e-paper that can cover virtually any surface, delivering a steady supply of targeted content and advertising.
Ask yourself: When color E-Ink products become widespread, will you be pining over print products past, or embracing an E-Ink future that is vibrant, eco-friendly and a road to new revenue?