Online and offline newspapers

Posted: February 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: apple, Estonia, media, thoughts | No Comments »

Last Saturday I got in my regular mail for free the paper edition of the Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht. That same morning I had already looked through the same newspaper in its iPad version. I also am aware of the launch of U.S.-only newspaper for the iPad, The Daily. I have also read/used on iPad and on paper the Estonian weekly Eesti Ekspress and the U.S. men’s magazine GQ. Here is what I think about them:

  • The iPad editions of all of the items I read seemed shorter. They actually had in general the same content, but in paper form I had the impression of getting more. I believe it is due to the fact that people are used to associate physical printed material with more content than electronic versions. The Internet seems vast and there is a lot to it, but the individual pieces are usually shorter. The paper edition also allows you to see the whole article on one page, zoom in and out of different parts of the article, whereas the iPad’s 10” screen requires you to scroll down to find interesting stuff in a single piece.
  • There seems to be more value in a physical product. Although the amount of content is the same, and there are even some nice extras like music and video, it is difficult to pay the same amount (or more in Eesti Ekspress’s case!) for essentially the same product, but in an electronic format. GQ is a nice exception as it costs here in Estonia significantly less than the physical copy. There is also the notion that information should be free online and therefore any kind of paywalls are undesirable and fragmenting. My suggestion is to sell the iPad editions of newspapers in a subscription format.
  • The current system of downloading the whole newspaper to the iPad and then reading it is tedious (especilly as it seems that it cannot download in background). Therefore I am stuck looking at the downloading screen for a signficant amount of time. The GQ solves the problem partly by starting already to display textual content before all the ‘heavier’ stuff has been downloaded, but it still is cumbersome. The ideal solution in a subscription world would be that the electronic edition would be delivered not on-demand, but immediately when available so that I do not have to wait for the hundreds and hundreds of megabytes to download. There must be a better technical solution to this waiting. I can get to the website instantly, but have to wait for 30 seconds or so each day before the newspaper downloads (and installs!).
  • My last gripe about the iPad versions of newspapers is payment and pricing. Surely the reduced costs of not having to print the newspaper and the added benefit of targeted and smart ads should lower, not raise, the price of the newspaper. I think a small weekly or monthly subscription fee for a bunch of newspapers bundled together is the way to go. I am especially disappointed with Eesti Ekspress who sells their iPad edition for significantly more than their paper version. Who was the idiot who came up with this?

I think that media has an ever increasing role in today’s world and as a watchdog of democracy. New technological advances, such as the iPad, open new ways of delivering high quality content instantly and with added value. This means that journalism must adapt to these new realities and also alter the business model accordingly, not simply create paywalls for content that was previously available for free. I think that the podcast model suits news media better than the music store model…