When I wrote about the expected cut back on home delivery for the Detroit newspapers, the assumption would be that many of the affected customers could access the online sites of the newspapers. I have learned, however, that the alternative to the “paper” paper is a bit more involved. Beyond the traditional Web site, the newspapers will be introducing rather impressive digital editions.
The digital version is more than a Web site. When initially accessed, the user sees a low resolution rendition of the front page on the left of the screen. Clicking on any article brings up the text of the article on the right. In a touch that tries to preserve the traditional flavor of the print paper, the etxt of articles with a jump actually stop where they would on the front page, followed by a link to the jumped page, but then continues with the rest of the article following. It’s an anachronism—but I can see the rationale for this formatting.
Users also have the option to display two pages across in the layout of the actual newspaper. In this format, the cursor changes to a magnifier, so a click on the low rez image enlarges it to a readable size. Yet another option allows downloading individual sections or even the entire newspaper as a pdf file. (Today’s newspaper was a 46 mb ZIP file). As best as I can tell this still needs some work, as each page is a separate pdf file.
The technology is far more amenable to user preferences than the more static approach taken by YuDu or The Sporting News or other previous digital publications’ digital editions.
The notion behind the digital edition is that it is fixed, being a representation of the print version. It is not updated 24/7. It IS the printed paper, digitally rendered. There is no ink to rub off or newsprint to toss out, but otherwise it has the benefits—pages randomly accessible – and drawbacks—fixed in time—as the print edition. Users are advised to go to the paper’s Web site for updates and breaking news.
I also tried it on my iPhone and it worked well, with the usual caveat of the iPhone’s small screen. But I could use all of the digital version’s functionality. Apparently the digital edition does not use Flash or any other non-browser standard technology.
The digital Free Press (and any other newspaper that adopts a similar technology) won’t appeal to everyone. Nothing does. SmartPhone access can provide some flexibility for mobile use, but is not a satisfying substitute. Reading a digital version, even on a nice widescreen monitor, is confining to a fixed place. But it is not hard to see the possibilities. If compatible with e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle or the newly introduced iRex with a 10” “paper” screen, the portability issue and the form factor hurdle recede.
Of course, the technologies only address the economics of the newspaper. They do not solve the enduring bigger question: Who will be paying to buy a newspaper, digital or otherwise?