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Is e-paper the way of the future?

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In 1997, E Ink became one of the first creators of electronic paper. It has continued to innovate and now publishes books using its products. Russell J. Wilcox, co-founder and president-CEO, discusses what's ahead for e-paper.

Media Business: What's happening now with electronic paper?

Wilcox: Currently, you can see e-paper being used in trade paperbacks. It's a small portion of the retail world, like the Internet was at first. There's speculation that Amazon will come out with a device. By next year there will be more than 10 companies selling electronic book readers. All of these are monochrome and around six inches wide. Next year you'll also see bigger sizes, like eight-inch and 10-inch screen sizes, and by 2009 you'll see 11- and 12-inch screen sizes. As they get bigger and bigger, they get to be a more and more appropriate way for magazine publishers to publish. The order for us is books, newspapers, magazines. Once we get beautiful color and images, we'll go into the magazine world. That'll be a year or two.

MB: What changes are expected other than the size?

Wilcox: The introduction of flexible display. You'll see the beginnings of it at the end of next year and more in 2009. You can do those sizes without having clasps. It can be the size of a laptop and be thinner and lighter than a pad of paper. You can drop it. You can throw it in your briefcase. The flex trend—and there are probably half a dozen manufacturers getting products ready for the end of '08, beginning of '09—that will hasten the practical usability of large-screen e-paper. The other technical change will be when color hits the devices. That will really make it attractive to advertisers and photographs. By the middle of '09, color should really be good. So by middle of '09 you'll have color, larger and more flexible displays. That will be a big accelerator for magazines to turn to e paper.

MB: What's the biggest challenge ahead?

Wilcox: No one knows who will control the data. Is it going to come through something like an Amazon device, and all your information will come to your reader through a company? Will it be more like an Internet browser thing where you'll buy a device and you join a service that gives you portable connectivity? Or will it be some other entity that's a trusted repository or bank that keeps track and says, "Oh, you own these periodicals, so I'll let you get these, and you can get them on any device." All of those are possible. —M.J.M.

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