In January 2007, we officially launched the Alliance at RJI as a member-supported initiative. Our initial efforts involved exchanging information among the members and looking at models and strategies for producing products that could be sold on e-readers. Then came the Kindle in November 2007. The organization has grown steadily since then.
We have around thirty members now, mostly newspapers. We’ve been working with members to get their products onto various mobile reading devices for several years. And we’ve been working on automation tools that make the production process easier. My belief is that newspapers will need to produce a number of different products—not just the daily products for iPads and other tablets and e-readers. And they will need to attract advertisers as well as subscribers to make their digital products successful. We’re working with several newspapers to demonstrate some other capabilities we might be able to do with apps beyond just doing the daily edition of the paper.
One of the products we’re calling Digital Newsbooks, which are investigative journalism projects repackaged as visually rich e-books that can be read on any PC, e-reader, iPad app or mobile device that supports PDF.
We’re also preparing to launch a national iPad survey in July. We hope to collect data for several years to track how satisfaction and usage patterns change over time. The data we gather and analyze should be very helpful to news organizations and technology companies. You’ll be able to find more information about the survey on the Institute’s Web site.
CB: How do you see tablets and e-readers evolving with regard to the news business over the next five to ten years?
RF: Clearly, we’ll see full color e-paper displays within a year or so. The color won’t be as rich as you have on the iPad. It’s more like newsprint color from what I’ve seen so far. And the price of devices is going to come down pretty dramatically. I expect that the book-size e-readers will be under $100 in the next couple of years. The price point will get down to where people will see it as quite affordable.
I don’t think e-readers will come to match the iPad’s capabilities, and in fact they probably shouldn’t. The e-reader is intended to be a single-purpose device that is fairly easy to use. Efforts to make them more like the iPad could actually hasten their demise because I think it’s the simplicity that people are really looking for, especially for reading books.
The iPad will be where development is going to be the most intense over the next few years. We’ll certainly see other manufacturers with tablets probably using the Android system. But I think Apple is going to dominate the tablet market for the next five years at least. In that time, the iPad and tablets will get lighter, thinner, and more versatile, just like the original iPod. And they will get much cheaper. I think iPad-like tablets will become popular around the world. I still believe they could become the preferred medium for reading newspapers and magazines by 2020.
CB: Do you think publishers and news outlets are going to commit to these devices in a way they didn’t when you were at the Information Design Lab?
RF: Oh, I think they’re clearly committed to using these devices. There is a lot of confusion about when to jump in and how much they want to commit to them. My sense is that most newspapers are looking to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and maybe USA Today to test the waters first and determine if there is a solid market there before they jump in. I suspect it’s going to be a tough one for midsize newspapers to deal with.