$100 million for e-paper firm – maybe you should start thinking about the future

Red Herring reports a British e-paper company locked up $100 million in venture capital.

“The company plans to build the plant, with an initial capacity of a million displays a year, in the eastern Germany city of Dresden and start production in 2008. The company said demand for electronic readers is expected to climb to 41.6 million units in 2010.”

E-paper is real, and its coming. The best thing for newspapers to do is to keep moving their online presences forward.

There are three key elements to this technology you’re going to want to start developing now, if you haven’t already:

  1. RSS feeds. I’m embarrassed that the paper I work at doesn’t have news feeds yet, and I’ve been there almost three months now. At the Spartan Daily, implementing feeds was my point of entry for working on the site. I’ll work on that… RSS is going to be your delivery system.
  2. Mobile usability. Have you tried to load your paper’s site on a mobile phone browser lately? How much navigation and advertising do your readers need to scroll through before they get to a clean list of headlines? What will Web design for a flexible semiconducting-polymer screen look like?
  3. Search. Think Google News more than Google here. You’re going to want readers to see your headlines in their topic-based RSS feeds, and the only way to do that — other than by frequently updating high-quality content that draws lots of inbound links — is to develop and design in a way that plays nice with search engines. Brush up on some basic SEO, like matching title tags to h1 tags, and start making the little fixes like this on your news site now.

Why should you bother with all this now? Because the future doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a slow process. You’re not going to get surprised by a new technology — your old technology is just going to slowly become obsolete.

Note to newspaper companies: Keep your print layout off my screen

Hey guys, let’s make a deal: You stop trying to paste an old media model (print layout) on a new medium (e-paper, UMPC, tabletPC), and I’ll keep reading the stories I want to read, when I want to read them, either via RSS feeds from your paper, or when a blog I trust links to you.

How hard is that to understand?

Don’t get me wrong – I love print layout, and I love paper, but a mobile device is not a piece of paper, and I don’t want it to be.

I spotted this in the press-release-osphere today: NewspaperDirect (the folks behind PressDisplay.com) have cut a deal with Microsoft to zap your favorite newspapers over to your UltraMobilePC (that Origami thing everyone was so excited about awhile back).

Gee, how excited am I to view a broadsheet newspaper layout on a tiny handheld screen? And honestly, even if this ends up being more like the New York Times/Microsoft Vista weird we’ll just make up our own Web standards deal, I’m still not interested.

Stop trying to control my screen, and let me mashup your RSS feeds into my own digital newspaper in peace.

New York Times on e-paper

“One Day Soon, Straphangers May Turn Pages With a Button”

The New York Times reports on the move some newspapers are already making to e-paper:

“This is only one test of new e-paper devices competing to become the iPod of the newspaper business. Other e-paper trials are being undertaken by the paper Les Echos, which is based here, by the newspaper trade group IFRA in Germany and, in the United States, by The New York Times….The International Herald Tribune, which is owned by The New York Times Company, is also in discussions to make subscriptions available later this year for the same e-paper devices used by De Tijd, according to Michael Golden, the International Herald Tribune’s publisher.”

Engadget provides some recent updates on the technology.

Here’s my little futurist riff on the topic from a few weeks ago.