Raleigh News & Observer Announces E-Edition

This morning I received an email from the Raleigh News & Observer, as I am a former subscriber, announcing their e-edition. For a mere $5/month you can have unlimited access to an online version of the print edition of the newspaper. They list the benefits as view The N&O exactly how it appears in print every day; searchable, savable, printable; simple navigation tools for easy reading.

While the technology used to produced this e-edition is a decent technological solution to reading content on the web, it is completely inappropriate to read a large format newspaper. Yes, you can go directly to the sections you are interested in, and yes, you can search to find exactly what you are looking for, but this is a huge step backwards. Revolutionary for 1996, but a major mis-step for 2009.



This is a screen shot of what comes up when I launch the demo, but note that the two windows, table of contents and paper, were of equal size, and I reduced the size of the left window to show more of the paper. This is not an intuitive adjustment to all web users. With the masthead and content boxes at the top, all I see is the headline of the lead story. The size of the viewing area is also reduced by a banner ad at the top of the page.

The power of the web is its non-linear approach to content. Web sites are designed to let you quickly and easily browse down a page for the stories that interest you. Lots of stories are visible on the current News&Observer website. Clicking on that story brings up a scrollable page with that story. In this new model, you must navigate around a page that has been laid out for print, where you are limited by the size of the paper. This front page shows me four stories. Clicking anywhere in a story brings up a separate window showing only that story. You can also view the story as it appears in the paper by clicking on a tab at the top of the window. When reading a story on screen, it does not make sense to view it in skinny column. If the story jumps to another page, you must click continue to see that jump. Why is the digital equivalent of turning the page a necessary part of this experience? This is an easy problem to solve technically. And the More News blurbs on the lefthand side of the front page do not link to those stories, but open a window providing a link to those stories. These should be changed to go right to the story.

There is currently a lot of talk about the death of newspapers, new business models, and that the only way they can survive is by ending the print editions and producing content online only. This e-edition is clearly an attempt to try something different in the online space, but I can’t imagine who the target for this e-edition is. If you like the newspaper in its print edition, and many still do, this does not replicate that experience. It takes a big sheet of paper and reduces it down to a small screen. There is no benefit to viewing the printed page on your computer if the print version continues to exist. If you like your news on the web, using a printed page interface to access that news is not very functional. After a quick demo, it’s easy to decide to keep you $5 per month and keep moving on the web.

So I can only conclude that this an advertising play that allows sales reps to promote the print e-edition as a way to get online eyeballs on the print ads. Access to the e-edition is included with the print newspaper subscription, so this will drive a bit of traffic by those who are curious.

I am glad to see that the News & Observer is trying to come up with new revenue streams and new ways to deliver the news, but they missed the whole point of the web and how people consume news on this one. In the end, their e-edition is a novelty that will not last.

Originally posted on DigitalPapercuts.com

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3 Responses

  1. It’s unfortunate the N&O decided to go this direction so late in the game. It seems like putting resources into getting on the Kindle would have been a better fit. I’ve posted a few more thoughts on my blog here.

  2. Nice post. Some thoughts;’The N&O exactly how it appears in print every day; searchable, savable, printable; simple navigation tools for easy reading.”The benefit of the visual of the print edition is that it is a well defined information architecture that is commonly understood. In NY, that means the top of column 8 is what the NYT thinks is the most important story. That info architecture is still undeveloped on the web. The issue is not what do I want to find. The issue is what do you – the editors – think is the important thing for me to know about.”There is currently a lot of talk about the death of newspapers, new business models, and that the only way they can survive is by ending the print editions and producing content online only.” This common wisdom is deeply wrong. See the discussion at Neiman for what I mean.http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/04/print-is-still-king-only-3-percent-of-newspa…”If you like your news on the web, using a printed page interface to access that news is not very functional.”That’s not obvious to me. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised that with modification the informatics of Print would do very well for certain kinds of web sites. Imagine a web page that looked like a FSI, only with clickable ads. I bet that would work alot better than a list of products and their offerings.”In the end, their e-edition is a novelty that will not last.”Only time will tell. But if the marginal cost of production is very low, and it’s perceived as a benefit of subscription for some nich audience, why not? Will it replace local ads for local business in local Print?”Not very likely.

  3. As an avid reader of the N&O, I was afraid I would lose this pleasure as I moved to Asheville. I was happy to change my remaining delivery subscription to E-0edition and have the paper “delivered” every day in Asheville.But I have a bone to pick. The E-edition clearly says “View the N&O exactly how it appears in print everyday”. To me, that means I should be able to see the Sunday comics.When I pointed out the discrepancy to the N&O, I received an email saying the comics would not be part of the e-edition (and the N&O had no plan to fulfill the promise made in their E-edition advertisement)I added the part in parentheses. It was left unsaid, but very clear in the email.I would like to hear some rationalization why the N&O feels no need to provide what they promise.

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