In Utica, NY we have one daily paper that’s actually printed – The Observer Dispatch. When I was checking it this morning I noticed that they have launched an ‘online e-edition.’ I’m a curious creature – so I checked it out.
This is a paid premium service ($10 / mo. or $1 extra per year if you’re a paper subscriber).
My first impression was that it was basically a clickable PDF scan of the paper next to the text version of the article that you would normally see on the web. I was able to turn pages, zoom, etc. But it left me scratching my head…how is this a premium product compared to the regular website?
Granted, it is kind of cool the first time you see it once you get the hang of navigating. And the PDF downloads on the sample looked great. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud them for trying something different, but I get a sense that they’re trying to provide an alternative to the tangibility of paper – and give people who read a newspaper the same layout they’re used to. I just think there are some missed opportunities. No stories had hyperlinks in them or commenting capability, just a link to the ‘full story’ with a graphic of the paper to the left of the text.
What about moving to the next level of a newspaper website, providing content as well features that make it highly sharable, mobile, and interacitve… Charge for that.
What kinds of features? First, allow people to comment on everything, from pictures, to each news story. Show the most popular articles on the front pages as determined by the users – above the fold. Feature local bloggers or most popular comments. Take submissions from the community- a la Huffington Post. Use services like Facebook Connect or the TWitter API to let users tie their social profiles to comments and take the discussion across platforms.
Check out Gina’s piece on media transitions over at Save the Media (don’t stop with that one, she’s got a lot of great posts). She argues that through these transitions Something will be gained and something will be lost. Get over it. But trust your readers and users to help find ways to deliver the content they want at a fair price.
Take It Mobile
I should also mention that the New York Times is crushing the mobile gig. I’m super impressed by their iPhone app – everything from the layout, to search really makes reading the news on a mobile device feel natural (now if only I could tweet links instead of e-mailing them). But the point is that they’re building something that’s got a slick design, good content, and mobile. Once they get the user connectivity down, it would be a service that I would glady pay a monthly fee for.
The same can be said of the way they are utilizing the Kindle to deliver content and make it a revenue stream (though I haven’t used it – it looks damn good).
I can only speak for myself when I say that I would gladly pay for quality content that is on-demand, easy to navigate, mobile, and can be consumed on a device of my choosing. If newspapers think that what will save them is giving people the digital version of thumbing through a paper, then they’re in bigger trouble than we thought. This isn’t a discussion about whether or not content should always be free. I’m just saying that all eyes are on the newspaper industry to try something bold. Starting with making a kick ass premium (but affordable) service for users, or finding a better way to create value for advertisers is a start.
What do you think? Am I way off base on this? What’s your opinion of the e-edition?