Kindle 3.0?: Russ Wilcox on the Future of “E Ink”, the Electronic Newspaper, and the Electronic Book

Russ Wilcox is the co-founder and CEO of E Ink, which produces the low-power/high-contrast “electronic paper” screen that has made Amazon’s Kindle 2 such a huge success.

Wilcox spoke to Xconomy.com and set some dates for what’s just over the horizon with regard to “e-paper.” Here’s what he says is next:

What you’ll see next is a great range of screen sizes. So far the industry has been using the 6-inch size, which has helped to drive down the cost for everybody, by consolidating on one manufacturing process. But we are starting to introduce displays that are in many different sizes. And you will see flexible displays going to market, at small volumes this year, but 2010 will be a big year for flexible displays. And then at the end of 2010, you will start to see improvements in the ink. We will have a whiter white and a blacker black, and we will start to experiment with color. You will probably see 2011 be the year of color.

All of those things will progressively broaden and deepen the applications. As you have flexible displays, you can do big displays and something that is much more like a newspaper experience, or in color so that it’s much more like a magazine. So we’ve taken on books, and we will extend to other types of formats over a relatively short period of time. There are a lot of mobile devices that could use a low-power, thin, plastic display, so you will see us in other types of devices as well.

And here’s what Wilcox says about e-paper and what it will mean for the traditional newspaper:

Worldwide, the book industry is an $80 billion industry. If, by distributing electronically, they could save 30 percent on their costs, that would add $25 billion a year to their profitability. The newspaper industry is twice as large, and could probably save 50 percent. What we’ve got here is a technology that could be saving the world $80 billion a year. So we take the long view. This is a business problem that you could drive a truck through. So what we need to do is simply be a good supplier, provide a platform upon which others can participate, and provide an ecosystem where lots of companies want to gather. . . .

The next big wave after e-books will be e-newspapers, enabled by the flexible screens in larger sizes. Then there will be a second wave of e-newspapers enabled by color. The benefit of that is that color enables advertising. The majority of print media is heavily subsidized by advertising, including almost all magazines and newspapers, so e-paper can’t really get to where it’s going until it supports advertising. Once that happens, you’ll see whole new business models emerging.

Pretty exciting stuff!

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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