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.

News & Observer e-edition
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.

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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 our paper of record 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.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen