Wednesday, October 22, 2008

After paper, what?

What would it cost to give every reader of a major newspaper an electronic newspaper? What would it save in paper and environmental impact? Here's some food for thought...

Institute for Analytic Journalism:Views from a NYTimes R&D guy
"Guest blogger Nick Bilton is with the New York Times R&D Lab during the day and NYC Resistor at night.

Working in the R&D Labs at The New York Times, I'm constantly asked, 'How long will paper be around?' or more to the point, 'When will paper really die?' It's a valid concern, and a question no one can answer with a timetable. But there will be a point--and I believe in our lifetime--when we'll see the demise of the traditional print newspaper."

Footnote: I love the two images on the page -- a Saturday Evening Post delivery boy from perhaps 75 years ago and an ad for a Radio Shack 15 megabyte hard drive from about 25 years ago -- when that massive amount of storage cost $2,495. (No computer included.) Let's see... without pulling out a calculator I can divide both by 5 and see that would be 3 megabytes for $500, or $166 each.

Since we've been talking about journalists' mathematical skills around the office recently, I made a quick check at for something to compare with the $166 a megabyte price. I found a 500 gigabyte drive going for $90, which I'll round up to $100 to include sales tax or shipping -- but really just to simplify the arithmetic.

So the $2,495 that bought 15 megabytes then... would buy about 25 of these 500 gigabyte drives, with no adjustments for inflation...

Since 500 gigabytes is about 500,000 megabytes, that's $1 for 5,000 megabytes. Hmm. At $166 per meg, it looks like a comparable stack of those Radio Shack drives would have set me back about $830,000. Who says there are no bargains these days?

Or did I misplace a decimal point? Sigh. Math insecurity. Oops. I'm late for an appointment and don't have time to double-check before hitting "post." Excuses, excuses.

Related: My favorite science journalist explains how to visualize what you get with two of those 500 gigabyte drives, the terabyte.

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