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3/31/2009
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Detroit Free Press And E-Reader Startup Announce Partnership

The Detroit Free Press, which "delivered" its first online-only newspaper yesterday, has announced a partnership with a Silicon Valley startup, called Plastic Logic, that's developing an e-reader. Is this the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between newspapers and e-reader companies?

The Detroit Free Press, which "delivered" its first online-only newspaper yesterday, has announced a partnership with a Silicon Valley startup, called Plastic Logic, that's developing an e-reader. Is this the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between newspapers and e-reader companies?Consider the dynamics. Declining advertising revenue is forcing many newspapers to reduce the number of print issues they produce each week. Meanwhile, one of the biggest complaints about online editions is they require a change in reading habits.

Some like to read their local news at the breakfast table or on the couch, with no interest in turning either into a portable office. Others like to read their newspapers on the subway or bus on the way to work--not easy to do on a laptop or a smartphone.

Enter light and portable e-readers, which are much, much better for reading than any other electronic device. I've played with the Amazon Kindle 2, and it's pretty nifty…you can already get a few dozen national and regional newspapers on the Kindle, and more, including the Detroit Free Press, will be available on it soon.

But unlike the Kindle 2, the new Plastic Logic device is touch screen and can be "gesture controlled," as they say. The device got geek tongues wagging when Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta showed it off at the DEMO conference last September. The Free Press partnership is important enough to get Archuleta to fly from his home base in Mountain View, Calif., to show off the device at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. Consider that the Free Press has over 300,000 daily and 600,000 Sunday subscribers. Plastic Logic apparently has deals in the works with Financial Times and USA Today, too.

As I blogged about yesterday, the Free Press launched a hybrid model this week that calls for limiting home delivery of the print newspaper to Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, and has developed a new daily electronic edition-an exact replica of the print edition-available only to paying subscribers. (It's free this week for anyone to check out.)

Plastic Logic doesn't plan to start selling its device until later this year, with mass market availability in 2010, making the Free Press an early adopter. It expects to put 100 devices into selected readers' hands soon, and hopes to have 20,000 to 30,000 readers using them within a year.

The Free Press plans to sell or lease the devices to readers; the sale price is unknown. By comparison, The Kindle 2 costs $359, which many reviewers have called too expensive. Still, everything is too expensive before a market heats up and competitors really go at it-look at what happened with the iPhone and the subsequent knockoffs.

Here's the device description from Plastic Logic's Web site:

"Differentiated by a stunning form factor (the size of 8.5 x 11-inch paper), the Plastic Logic reader features a big readable display. Yet it's thinner than a pad of paper, lighter than many business periodicals, and offers a high-quality reading experience - better than alternatives of paper or other electronic readers on the market today.

The Plastic Logic reader supports a full range of business document formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and Adobe PDFs, as well as newspapers, periodicals and books. It has an easy gesture-based user interface and powerful software tools that will help business users to organize and manage their information. Users can connect to their information either wired or wirelessly and store thousands of documents on the device. The reader incorporates E Ink technology for great readability and features low power consumption and long battery life."

Now, back to the Free Press's online edition…the results are much better today than they were yesterday. Still, because you use a mouse to navigate, it requires far more dexterity than the simple hand-arm function of turning a print page. I think some seniors will have a hard time with it.

It's also bothersome that this digital media revolution doesn't take into account those readers that don't have regular access to a PC, let alone $359 lying around to buy an e-reader. This is a particularly important issue for community newspapers, which are supposed to represent everybody. At least the Free Press continues to make its paper available at news boxes and retail outlets every day. The result: those of limited means have to work harder at getting their daily news than everyone else.

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