If E Ink has its way, the entire publishing industry will be transformed with the screens it manufactures.

If E Ink has its way, the entire publishing industry will be transformed with the screens it manufactures.


Forget about the concept of reading news on your laptop. Think of paging through a newspaper or a book on a device showing text, photos and video — all without the mess of newsprint on your fingers and as easy on your eyes as a newspaper. Think of 2002’s “Minority Report,” the futuristic Steven Spielberg-directed movie that featured newspapers with changing text and moving images. Or the magic newspaper in the “Harry Potter” movies.


It may seem premature to point to electronic paper as the savior of an industry that has witnessed declining circulation numbers and much-publicized staff cutbacks. But there’s a lot that E Ink is banking on, specifically the fact that newspapers consume resources: the trees it takes to create a newspaper and the fuel it costs to deliver or produce the paper.


“In a typical newspaper, we believe we can save 50 percent of the cost,” said Sriram Peruvemba, vice president of marketing for E Ink. Already on board is Hearst Corp., one of the country’s biggest publishers, as an investor in the company, as are Motorola and more than a dozen other companies.






The company, which has 120 employees in Cambridge, produces kits that other companies can adapt to their own e-reader devices — for example, the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader. The most recent electronic paper, low-power screens feature black-and-white text and images.


Perhaps the company’s biggest coup was Esquire magazine’s October issue — its 75th anniversary issue — which featured an E Ink display on the cover with the blinking words: “The 21st century begins now.” The inside cover featured an E Ink-designed display featuring an advertisement for Ford Flex.


The display received accolades and plenty of press: The New York Times and Boston Globe did stories about the feat. But not all reviews were glowing. Wired magazine wrote on its blog, “...what is presented as the future of digital/print convergence is little more than ink mashed with some underutilized circuitry.”


Peruvemba won’t say much about the company’s revenue, only to say that it doubled from 2006 to 2007 and “we are confident they will double” this year.


E Ink began in 1997 as a project at the MIT Media Lab, founded by MIT assistant professor Joe Jacobson, Harvard Business School graduate Russ Wilcox, Media Lab’s Jerry Rubin, Barrett Comiskey and JD Albert. It was a project like no other, a marriage of both the business world and the world of science. And now their idea is taking on a life of its own.


In six months, E Ink’s new displays — powered by black and white microcapsules featuring 16 shades of grey and first-of-its-kind animation — will be available (the Kindle has only four shades of grey).


“This would enable advertisements on electronic newspapers, you could also imagine applications in text books or even normal books where figures and explanations come to life,” said Joanna Au, a senior application engineer at the company, who showed off a mock cover of The New York Times on the company’s new AM300 developer’s kit, complete with an animated advertisement.


The device also allows for two-way interactivity — meaning you can write on the display and it’ll recognize what you write, something you can’t do right now.


The technology is a step forward for the publishing industry as a whole, but don’t think E Ink is resting on its laurels. Next year, E Ink, along with a British company called Plastic Logic, will unveil its first all-plastic display, so flexible it’s survived military tests. The move could pave the way for electronic newspapers that are actually flexible and readable.


By 2010, the company has plans to unveil plastic screens capable of showing color video (it continually plays the Pixar movie “Cars” on a beta version of the display in a company lab). And still a ways off is the possibility of “radio paper” — transmitting text and images wirelessy to the device.


“We go where no other display has gone before,” said Peruvemba. “We believe we have a very compelling value proposition. Our fundamental belief is between the creator or publisher and the reader — there’s a lot of people in between that consume resources. We are helping bridge that.”