Chapter 19: Reinventing newspapers in a digital era - the mobile e-paper

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter focuses on how the newspaper as a medium is in the middle of a transition from an analogue 'mobile' medium to a digital mobile medium. The newspaper has in fact always been a 'mobile' medium, in the sense that readers could take this news medium with them on public transport, in the café, in the waiting room or on other public places. In the first phase of digitization the newspaper got fixed to a desktop computer or at best to a laptop computer. But the next step is to 'mobilize' the online newspaper, by giving the digital news content a 'shell' that adequately enables everyday newspaper practices. One of the more promising efforts is the e-paper device based on e-Ink technology. This e-ink technology gives device manufacturers the opportunity to embed electronic screens with a very high resolution that looks like real paper, is ultra thin and, in the future, will also be flexible. This technology is, amongst others being used by Sony, Philips and iRex to develop mobile e-Paper devices (also referred as eReaders) , which are mobile devices to read newspapers, books and documents with the same reading quality as regular paper. The high screen resolution enables to represent an interface that closely resembles the original newspaper artifact. In the trade-off between being digitally innovative by incorporating different functionalities and being recognizable as a (digital) newspaper, the e-Paper clearly tilts over to the latter. The e-Paper device is clearly designed to be as familiar as possible for analogue newspaper readers, with much less affordances than integrated in current digital mobile media.

Our study investigates the acceptance and domestication of this kind of digital newspaper device by readers within their everyday life practices. The question is to what extent the familiarity with the classic newspaper really furthers the appropriation of this digital newspaper. Or do people expect that a digital mobile news medium should have as much functionality as possible, even beyond the standard newspaper reading? In order to do this kind of research we first need a semi-mature technology that is however stable and fully functional in a real life test environment. If the latter is not the case, then the first attention will go to these technological and interface issues. Only when this basic threshold is taken, a more contextualized and practice-oriented living lab research can be undertaken.

Although the e-Paper devices we discuss within this chapter, exist since a couple of years now, only few research projects with newspapers took place. So far only two commercial initiatives with mobile newspaper devices have been developed: 'Les Echos' in France, and 'the Yantai Daily' in Yantai, China. Both newspapers offer a daily edition of their newspaper on an adapted format for the iRex iLiad eReader.

In the light of these developments, we will discuss the possible benefits of mobile newspapers for users and the way they appropriate these new devices. The empirical data in this chapter is largely based on our own user research results within the Flemish IBBT project 'e-Paper', in which we participated. Furthermore, within the Me-Paper project, we also examined other research projects, but due to their confidential nature, only few actual results could be gathered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMobile technologies : from telecommunications to media
EditorsGerard Goggin, Larissa Hjorth
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-98986-2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameMobile Technologies: From Telecommunications to Media

Bibliographical note

Goggin, Gerard & Hjorth, Larissa


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