OK, So What Will Be A Good Use of RSS for News Publishers?

[UPDATE: Some blogs which have linked to this item call it my vision of the newspaper of 2010. Calling it that is inaccurate. I believe that e-paper devices will be in common use by 2010 and that consumers will use these device for reading books, magazines, business reports, grocery lists, homework, etc. But whether or not the newspapers industry will take advantage of this by 2010 and make newspapers available on these devices is very much an intangible. Perhaps a few individual newspapers will, but I now don’t see much concerted work by the majority of the newspaper industry or its industry groups to prepare for these technologies.]

I believe that by the end of this decade we’ll begin to see portable, flexible (capable of being rolled up and put into a pocket or purse when not in use), handheld, color electronic display for sale to consumers.

If that sounds far-fetched, please understand that the first generation of electronic paper displays from Philips can display B&W text or flickering video and can be rolled into a cylinder less than one inch (2.54 cm) in diameter, and that Philips will start pilot plant production of one million such displays next year. Technical improvements on these display have been swift, so I believe that further improvements will lead to color, high resolution versions during the remaining half of the decade. Nonetheless, Philips (plus Sony and other manufacturers) are already planning sales of those versions in an even shorter time.

These electronic paper displays will have a CPU and a battery (note that today’s e-paper consumes a fraction of the electricity of contemporary LCD screens, allowing 3 to 21 hours on a charge, according to a report in Nature). The CPU and battery will probably take the form of a narrow cylinder bound along longest perimeter of the display, around which you can roll-up the display when not in use.

If these devices will contain a CPU and battery, why not also a wireless chip? The display will need outside connectivity and wireless is a better means for that than docking stations or plugs. GSM/GPRS wireless telephony chips have already become so inexpensive that disposable cell phones are on sale in Europe. Later this decade, broadband wireless (3G/UMTS) will be in use (it’s already being implemented in Hong Kong, Korea, and many European companies). Why not a chip that combines 3G/UMTS, Wi-Fi (whatever 801.11 alphabet exists then), and BlueTooth. Moore’s Law should reduce the cost of such of wireless chip to a reasonable level this decade.

And if this e-paper device then has wireless connectivity, how can news publishers or news broadcasters utilize that to automatically and routinely deliver their content into these devices to people who subscribe to those news organizations’ content, without those people having to remember to download the content each day?

Until six months ago, I thought the only likely answer to that question would be by publishers sending their content into these devices via the wireless telephony subcarrier frequencies that now provide SMS and MMS. That solution is still viable. However, RSS feeds delivered via wireless broadband GPRS/UTMS, Wi-Fi, or even BlueTooth might be a viable alternative.

These wouldn’t be today’s plain-text, graphically empty RSS feeds. Instead, this future form of RSS would encapsulate publisher’s or broadcaster’s entire daily report in full graphical, interactive layout. This would include all hyperlinks to video or other multimedia. Imagine a hybrid of digital edition and website; all the graphical capabilities and layouts of the former, plus the interactivity and multimedia of the latter. Click the photo, see the video, etc. Click the links embedded in texts and related stories appear, etc.

If RSS can be adapted to encapsulate radio or video programming into Apple iPods (as is now beginning to be done), then future versions of it should be capable of encapsulating entire, hybrid ‘converged’ editions.

Automatic and routine daily delivery would eliminate one of the fundamental flaws about publishing news via the Web: A web site doesn’t actually delivery anything; its contents instead away retrieval, which consumers have proven to do infrequently (the average online consumers retrieves it only 2 to 5 times per month, according to Nielsen//Netratings or ComScore Media Metrix). Like the automatic and routine daily delivery of a printed newspaper onto your doorstep or into your office, the newspaper (or broadcast) that you request would be automatically and routinely delivered daily into your e-paper device.

By automatically and routinely receiving an entire edition that is a hybrid of digital edition and website, rather than simply a website home page, the subscriber wouldn’t need to deal two with another flaws of the Web: (1) having to download Web pages one at a time and (2) the HTML’s graphical layout inferiority when compared to printed editions. By hybrid of digital edition and website, I don’t mean a 2MB to 20MB PDF file embedded with hyperlinks, but a file format that is thinner than that.

[Update: tthe presentation of these editions’ content — in other words, whether or not full graphics are visible — will be controllable by the consumer, not solely by the publisher as with today’s printed publications. These editions also would utilize tagged files formats that flow to fit device screensiz, rather than be fixed size like today’s digital editions or print editions. And the content in these editions will also be individualizable. I indeed don’t see any reason why an ‘edition’ must necessarily be from a single publisher.]

This hybrid of digital edition and website wouldn’t utilize Web banner ads. The major economic problem banner ads is that as an Web edition’s popularity grows, so does that website’s inventory of ad space that must be sold. For example, if the 60-page daily The New York Times somehow doubles its print circulation, the newspaper probably wouldn’t begin printing an 120-page edition. It instead would probably continue to print its 60-age edition but begin charging twice as much money for an advertising page in it. However, if NYTimes.com someone doubles it site traffic, the website now has twice as many advertising spots to sell. It can’t simply double its rate per spot, as it could with print. The economics of print ad rates operate according to the principle of scarce space, but the economics of banner ads operate according to the principle of surplus space. (This is the reason why NYTimes.com’s ad revenues haven’t increased 250X during the years that its site traffic increased that much.) The economics of electronic publication advertising need to brought back to the principles of scarcity.

This hybrid of digital edition would delivery interactive print ads. Neither the advertisers nor the publisher would need staffs to create or sell separate banner and print ads.

Electronically publishing an edition with a fixed number of pages (such as in a digital edition), ostensibly does that. Electronically delivering an entire edition intact also creates a package that websites don’t offer, a service that will more likely motivate subscribers to pay something for a subscription.

These are only some of the ideas involved.

5 thoughts on “OK, So What Will Be A Good Use of RSS for News Publishers?

  1. I had written about this a couple of days ago.

    While I agree with most of the things you have to say, I do not agree with your vision of the “hybrid” as something that is created on the content creator’s side.

    In fact, I believe the exact opposite, content presentation would shift almost entirely to the client side.

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