When talking to E Ink Corp. Chief Marketing Officer Sriram Peruvemba, like any good marketing whiz, he conveys an excitement for his company’s products. However, when it comes to electronic paper, it is clear that Peruvemba believes the innovations of his company are changing the world as we know it.
Founded in 1997 as a spin-off from the MIT Media Lab and with its global headquarters not far away from its birthplace in Cambridge, Mass., E Ink is a driving force in developing and selling electronic paper and electronic paper displays. The company, which was acquired in 2009 by Prime View International, is the largest supplier of displays to the electronic book industry. However, its products are also used in many consumer and commercial applications, such as electronic newspapers, electronic textbooks, watches, smartcards, electronic shelf labels, battery/memory indicators and signage.
With over $1 billion in reported revenue last year and a customer list that includes Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Casio, Hitachi, Lexar, Motorola, Samsung and Sony, it is pretty clear that E Ink is doing something right.
Peruvemba says it all comes down to E Ink’s electronic paper product, which is lauded for having a paper-like high contrast and appearance, low power consumption and a thin, feather-light form. “Our claim to fame is our electronic paper resembles printed paper better than anything else on the market,” he said.
While it took 10 years for E Ink to get its technology to market, since Peruvemba joined in 2007, business has been on a rocket ship trajectory. According to Peruvemba, in 2007 E Ink reported $17 million in revenue and was hauling in a little over $1 million a month. Not too bad, but small change compared to the $100 million it pulls in a month now and the $1.2 billion in annual revenue.
In the last five years, nearly 70 million displays have been shipped that have E Ink’s technology.
And Peruvemba says this is only the start. “We are right at the cusp of something that I think is fairly huge that will happen in the next few years,” he said.
While the debate between print and electronic mediums rages on, Peruvemba makes no qualms about saying that E Ink’s primary goal is to replace paper with its electronic paper.
Right now, Peruvemba points out that 20 percent of adults are reading electronic books, a substantial number considering the percentage was zero a decade ago, but there is also plenty of room for growth.
On the technical end, E Ink makes the core materials that are the basis for electronic paper. This material is then sent to manufacturing companies that cut the material into displays, which can be used in readers and devices.
From an environmental perspective, electronic paper has its benefits because it saves trees that would have otherwise been cut down to make paper, but Peruvemba says that the main reason for E Ink’s success is that its electronic paper product is not just the same as reading on a computer or tablets. The company’s products are designed to be “very easy on the eyes” and without backlight that causes fatigue in eyes.
“With electronic paper it is like an ordinary book, you can read for hours and it won’t hurt you eyes,” he said. “It resembles the printed book and the reading experience is absolutely fantastic.”
Leisure reading is the key area of success for electronic paper so far and Peruvemba only sees this continuing. “I am betting on the fact that all over the world books will become electronic and there are already signs that this is happening,” he said.
At the same time, these trends are also changing the ways libraries do business with more and more offering electronic books as the borrowing of print books continues to decline. “In electronic form, the Boston Public Library can lend its books worldwide, it is never going to get lost and there are no late fees,” Peruvemba said. “It is entirely revolutionizing the entire sector.”
He admits that it is sad to see libraries, which have commonly been one of the most impressive buildings in a city or town, on the decline, but the brick-and-mortar library model is just no match for the efficiency of electronic books. “Now [a library building] has been replaced, by a library you can place in your backpack,” he added.
Peruvemba can easily rattle off dozens of potential products and markets that can use electronic paper and electronic display technology, but one area he is really convinced is the next big thing is electronic textbooks.
With the size and amount of books many students – at all levels of education – have to haul around, he feels it only makes sense to convert these to electronic formats. The challenge is that the long-successful textbook publishing industry and bookstore distribution model is resistant to change. Still, he pledges that E Ink will make it “the next big thing” for electronic books and will be focusing on it strongly in the next year. “I think that will be the killer application for our product,” he said.
A personal favorite is a music stand that replaces music scores with electronic paper. E Ink has built a product, dubbed “Rosie,” but it is not in mass production yet. “You can save your entire life’s collection of music all in this one device,” Peruvemba said. “It is another unique concept using our technology.”
E Ink has massive ambition and Peruvemba serves as the voice of that. The mission statement that he created for the company hints at the scope: “E Ink on every smart surface.”
Peruvemba grew up in Bangalore and received a bachelor’s degree from R.V. College of Engineering in his hometown. He worked for five years in India before coming to the United States in the early 1990s. Most of his experience has been in the electronic display industry with companies such as Sharp, TFS Inc., Planar Systems and Suntronic Technology.
Peruvemba was working for Sharp when E Ink reached out to him. He said he took the opportunity because he was excited about creating a market that didn’t exist for the company’s electronic paper product. He relocated to Boston to join E Ink in 2007. “It was probably the best decision I made. It was fantastic,” he said.
“When you create a market you are helping people read better and getting access to things you could never access before,” he added. “If you can do something that is just part of your job, but that also impacts people in a positive way that is just fantastic.”
Peruvemba lived in Boxborough, Mass., for about four years after he first joined E Ink in 2007. Last year, he relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, but he spends a week every month back at E Ink’s Cambridge headquarters.