The Future of Newspapers: (Erasable) Paper?

By: Steve Outing

Cliff Lindsey doesn't think that newspapers will succeed on the Internet, but he does believe the industry's future will be in electronic publishing. And paper is the key to newspapers' future, he says.

Lindsey, a retired computer executive who now lives on Whidbey Island in Washington's Puget Sound, wants to see newspapers delivered to the home electronically. In his vision, home printers will spew out the daily newspaper, sent by the publisher over cable or telephone lines. Newspapers will save money on printing presses and delivery trucks, and fewer trees will be felled in the name of news.

Central to this vision is erasable, re-usable paper which can be inserted into high-speed home printers that use heat to erase the old and then print the new. Lindsey enters the picture because he's the co-founder and marketing director of a German company, ETIP (Erasable Thermographic Imaging Products GmbH), which owns the patent for a coating material that allows paper to be erased thousands of times.

ETIP's erasable paper technology already has been put to use in Japan on more than 10 million plastic cards, which are used for such applications as ski lift tickets and "loyal cards" (the common marketing technique where the card holder gets a free product after buying 10). The cards also are starting to be introduced in Europe and the U.S.

Now Lindsey is shifting his attention to the newspaper industry, hoping that publishers will see the benefits of switching from environmentally unfriendly newsprint to re-usable paper. Think of the cost savings in delivery of the print product if many of a newspaper's readers received their news electronically, he says. And readers get to keep their comfortable, familiar printed page rather than stare at a newspaper Web site on a computer screen.

Lindsey says he's approached paper and printing companies about the idea. They've been slow to accept the idea (perhaps predictably), but some have warmed to the business prospects of a next-generation paper. Some of his prospects are in Germany, and his business advisers have urged the company to push ahead in Japan, where the erasable cards have caught on.

Is Lindsey on to something? I certainly don't share his view that newspapers will fail on the Internet (for the obvious reason that the interactive medium offers so much more capability than paper), but I do agree with his premise that many people do not want to read news on a computer screen.

The newspaper created each night on a home printer rather than plunked on the driveway at 5 a.m. is probably still years away. Yet in a decade, I can imagine news consumers having a choice between the interactive news product viewed on the Internet and a printed version delivered to their homes electronically on re-usable paper. In 10 years, today's printed newspaper will probably still be available, but at a higher price than these other two options.

Contact: Cliff Lindsey,

Improving electronic classifieds

In a recent column I mentioned the online classifieds service of Fairfax Publishing (Australia), noting that it includes not only liners but also makes display ads from Fairfax print publications searchable on the Internet. Guy Spriggs, partner in The Rosetta Stone Consultancy in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, points out that his company also has developed that capability on Buy & Sell in Vancouver, the Web service of a free-ad paper in British Columbia, Canada.

The Buy & Sell site also has some other nice features that demonstrate the advancing art of electronic classifieds:

* Sold keywords. Display ads appear in a priority setting when users search for keywords that an advertiser has purchased.
* Keyword synonyms. A search for "jeep" will also turn up ads that have Cherokee" but not the word jeep.
* Abbreviation synonyms. A search for "3 bedroom house" will turn up ads with "3 br house," for example. This feature is also context-sensitive, Spriggs says, so that "br" is "bedroom" in real estate classifications, but means "brakes" in the auto section.
* Classification synonyms. When a user searches for "television" or "TV," the system will show all ads in the televisions classification (because some ad text may say only "Sony 21in color, $200").
* "Always show" display ad option. No matter what a user searches for, display ads will be shown every time any item in its classification(s) is shown.
* Dynamic display auto pages. Every ad from a car dealer's composite ad is accompanied by its logo (click for their full inventory) and a camera (click to see a GIF photo of the car).
* Personal memopad. This feature allows the user to store and save ads and previous searches.

Clearly, the state of the art for Internet classifieds is advancing. It's no longer acceptable to simply port print classified ads onto a Web site and expect viewers to browse through the ads by category.

Contact: Guy Spriggs,

Online users' political leanings

The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition has polled American online users and found considerable differences between the political views of Internet users and non-users. The Journal/NBC News poll found that Internet users are more Libertarian in thinking than non-users, not just on free speech online issues but also on topics unrelated to the Internet, like abortion. They also are more skeptical than non-users of standard liberal positions such as the belief that an increase in the minimum wage will help boost the economy. They are far more likely than non-users to believe that free global trade will boost the U.S. economy.

On political questions, Internet users were similar to the rest of the U.S. population. They approve of President Clinton's job performance by 56% to 35%; and they declare themselves to be Democrats, Republicans, independents and supporters of Ross Perot in almost the same proportions as non-Internet users. However, among online users, Clinton has a wider lead over challenger Bob Dole (26 percentage points) than among off-liners (18 points).

The poll found that 54% of voting-age online users were male, but that the gender gap online is closing fast. A January Journal/NBC poll found an 18% gap between men and women.

The pollsters report, "For all its claim of accessibility and inclusion, the Internet cannot yet boast of an electronic community reflective of the population as a whole." Online users are typically better educated, more affluent and younger than the U.S. population as a whole.

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