The newspapers of the future - cheap digital screens that can be rolled up and stuffed into a back pocket - have been just around the corner for the last three decades.
But as early as this year, the future may finally arrive.
Some of the world's top newspapers publishers are planning to introduce a form of electronic newspaper that will allow users to download entire editions from the Web on to reflective digital screens said to be easier on the eyes than light-emitting laptop or mobile phone displays.
Flexible versions of these readers nay be available as early as 2007.
The handheld readers couldn't come a moment too soon for the newspaper industry, which has struggled to maintain its reader-ship and advertising from online rivals.
Publishers Hearst Corp in the US, Pearson's Les Echos in Paris and Belgian financial paper De Tijd are planning a large-scale trials of the readers this year.
Earlier attempts by book publishers to sell digital readers failed due to high prices and a lack of down-loadable books.
But a new generation of readers from Sony C and iRex, a Philips Electronics spin-off, have impressed publishers with their sharp resolution and energy efficiency, galvanizing support for the idea again.
"This could be a real substitution for printed paper," Jochen Dieckow, head of the news media and research division of Ifra, a global newspaper association based in Germany, said.
It's easy to see why publishers are keen.
Digital newspapers, so called e-newspapers, take advantage of two prevailing media trends - the growth of online advertising and widespread use of portable devices like the iPod music player.
Nearly all papers run web sites, but few readers relish pulling out laptops in transit or risk dropping one in the bathroom.
E-newspapers would cut production and delivery costs that account for some 75 percent of newspaper expenses.
Some publishers now see new devices as a way to help them snatch a bigger slice of online advertising and protect their franchise in reading away from home.
In the US, ad spending on newspaper Web sites grew 32 per cent in 2005 but only accounted for per cent of total ad spending in newspapers, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
Still, little is known about demand for an e-paper. "The number of consumers who are interested in reading on the go as opposed to listening to music on the go is probably smaller in the US today," NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin said.
Sony and iRex's new devices employ screen technology by E Ink, which originated from the Massachusetts Institute of Tech-nology's Media Lab. Investors include Hearst, Philips, McClatchy, Motorola and Intel
The company produces energy-efficient ink sheets that contain tiny capsules showing either black or white depending on the electric current running through it.
Some of the latest devices apply E Ink's sheets to glass transistor boards, or back planes, which are rigid.
But by 2007, companies such as UK-based Plastic Logic will manufacture screens on flexible plastic sheets, analysts say.