Good news for old-media sufferers! On Wednesday, Fujitsu announced the world's first color e-reader. It renders text as cleanly as a printed page, displays 260,000 colors, weighs three-quarters of a pound and is connected to the Net via WiFi. It costs $1,000, a price tag that's probably three times too high, which is typical for products aimed at early adopters.
Still, I think the Fujitsu "FLEPia" brings us the people who make magazines, newspapers, books, TV shows and movies one step closer to fixing our badly broken business model. (The perfect media device also needs to be able to do video.) Once we've got the All-Media Device, we're back in business. In the meantime, the migration from the Web to the post-Web world where content is easier to consume on new mobile devices, but no longer free is fully underway. (Read about the new iPod Shuffle.)
I love the Web, of course, and fully expect it to continue as the free repository of all information. As a Database of Everything, it is the crowning achievement of civilization. And I absolutely believe that it's possible for certain kinds of low-overhead content producers to eke out a living here, attracting enough audience to generate modest ad revenue. So far, this has worked best for curators, scavengers and commentators the three pillars of the Temple of Blog and others who purvey short-form stuff.
But the Web, via computer, offers a lousy deep-reading experience. (That's why its signal application was called a "browser.") The Web has too many distractions in the form of links, e-mails, instant messages and now Twitters. Besides, if a device has a real keyboard, it's for "writing," not reading the user is primed more for output than input. Amazon was the first to exploit that weakness and is building a billion-dollar business built around a gadget aimed at people who read offline. In fact, it has already supposedly sold more than 500,000 of its $359 e-readers, despite their obvious limitations. (Kindles only do black and white text and can't even handle photographs or different fonts properly yet, much less the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.)
The Kindle was the first baby step toward the post-Web world. The FLEPia, and its descendents, is another. The march is picking up speed: The iPhone is a terrific example of a post-Web device. Yes, you can use it to browse the Web, but it works so much better via the native iPhone applications that you download to it.
On Tuesday, Apple unveiled a number of improvements to its mobile operating system, which will only hasten old media's move to the post-Web world. The biggest change: Apple's app store will let us charge subscriptions for our content. (Of course, we always could charge for subscriptions on the Web, but who'd pay for that experience?) And now, with a rumored 9-inch iPod Touch heading to consumers an Apple iReader! Linked to Apple's one-click-to-pay App store! I bet great magazines and newspapers will come up with iterations that you actually will pay for. Once people own gorgeous gadgets, they want to augment them with content. The iPhone and Kindle proved that. Hearst is so convinced this is the way to go, it's building its own device and online newsstand-store.
A friend, a well-known serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, says I'm kidding myself. He says that, like the rest of the people in my industry, I'm moving through the classic Kubler-Ross cycle of dealing with a terminal diagnosis. Old media has already gone through Denial and Anger, and are now Bargaining, looking for ways to beat the Grim Reaper. "Most of the product ideas that you all are coming up with in this bargaining phase don't make any sense from the customer viewpoint," he told me recently. "Anything that falls into the category of 'the web doesn't pay well enough and so we need to gin up some alternative that will pay better' is going to fail people aren't stupid." All that remains, he said, is Depression and Acceptance."
The problem with his analysis is, I've already gone through the Depression stage. And yet I believe more than ever that the patient can be saved.