The current device has a glass screen but the next generation will be made of a flexible plastic that can be rolled, much in the way as a newspaper can.
The Finnish news publisher is keen to test whether giving away digital paper-like e-readers to subscribers is a cheaper solution than print distribution.
During a meeting organised by Poland's Chamber of Publishers, Janne Kaijärvi, chief media officer of Finland's Leia Media, which makes the device, demonstrated the new generation e-reader. The device, known as ePaper, can be charged by solar or artificial, in-door light.
Presenting the fully functional device, Kaijärvi explained how publishers are searching for new ways of distributing their content. "Within the past six years publishers have lost €51 billion worth in ads. Two global companies own almost 70 per cent of the advertising market in the US and western Europe – Google own 53 per cent and Facebook 16 per cent. The ratio of dollars lost in print advertising to those earned in digital is 16:1," explained Kaijärvi.
"I'm not trying to prove our solution is the best one ever created," Kaijärvi continued. "What we know for sure is that if you can make something more convenient, you can make some money out of that".
The pilot programme, involving 300 people, is designed to find out whether Leia Media's ePaper is able to compete with tablets or smartphones.
The device is lightweight and thin (about 6mm thick) and the back is a solar panel. The current version has a screen made out of glass, which makes the device slightly heavier, but the next device will instead have a screen made out of a flexible plastic, which can be rolled.
Image courtesy of Leia Media Ltd
The e-reader will be sold in different sizes, with a maximum weight of 110 grams. A newspaper's content will be transferred to the device via wifi. There are no plans to add 3G or 4G functionality in order to keep the price of the device low.
Helsingin Sanomat hopes the pilot programme will prove worthwhile and to make the device available to all subscribers.
Those involved in setting up the pilot at the Finnish news outlet, which publishes a daily newspaper and website with a metered paywall, want to maintain and further develop subscriber relationships. Pushing an e-reader is one of the first steps in creating a fully personalised newspaper of the future, said Kaijärvi.
Helsingin Sanomat plans to give the device to subscribers for free. "In times when tablets and smartphones are so popular, it does not make much sense to try and convince consumers to buy another device," said Kaijärvi.
He added: "On the other hand, the cost of producing and distributing a single issue of a regular newspaper varies from €200 to €300 a year, depending on a country. Giving away a device worth €40, makes this process much cheaper."
"We would like to find out whether the physical newspaper can be replaced by a reading device delivered with the subscription", Santtu Parkkonen, producer in Helsingin Sanomat development, said in a press release.
Leia Media is searching for other publishers around the world interested in the roll out of similar testing programmes within their subscriber base.
Marek Miller is editor-in-chief of prasa.info, a Polish website for publishers and journalists.