9 things about e-editions to consider

February 4, 2014

By John Harrison
Eastern Regional Sales Manager | Tecnavia Press Inc.

The first e-editions appeared around 2001. Back then, e-editions were typically print replicas, used by publishers to cut costs for things like mail distribution, staff copies and NIE programs, and to stick a toe in the digital ocean. Some papers jumped in. Others waited to get reports from those early adopters.

Today, we can answer some implementation questions with the help from two weekly papers adopters, Allen Pollock, of the Cape Cod Chronicle, Pat Desmond, publisher of the Milton (MA) Times.


What is an e-edition?

Typically an e-edition is a replica of a formatted page, with all text, photos, graphics and ads as it appears in the print edition. It differs from a Web page, a PDF or a page image in that it has a special user interface to help navigate the publication form, and content to retain the print reading experience as if it were a newspaper, magazine or book. What makes newspapers especially challenging to present as an e-edition is the larger-than-screen format, multiple sections, story jumps and complex layouts. Readers most often access e-editions via a Web browser, or by downloading a file and using a special app to read off-line.


So are e-editions static, like paper, or interactive like web pages?

Actually, the best e-editions are both: a combination of print-like formatted and curated content with many of the interactive features of a Web page. Although it might look like a static page, URLs, e-mail address in stories and ads can become live links in an e-edition. It makes an impact.

Pollock said, “We like being able to include hyperlinks, knowing they’ll be easily accessible by our readers. It helps deepen their knowledge of the topic we’re covering.”

Publishers can also include links to video, photo galleries, breaking news and digital ads, none of which appeared in the print edition. And like the Web, e-edition content can be updated during the week or day and stories and ads can be text searched back years.


Is a PDF an e-edition?

The PDF file format is often the source for e-editions, but not displayed as an e-edition by itself. A PDF contains all the text, images, formatting and layout information needed to print a page, but it does not know much about the content (stories, photos, ads). Viewing a newspaper page as a PDF makes for difficult browsing and lots of zooming in/out to navigate and read. State-of-the-art e-editions typically begin with a newspaper PDF and take it apart to identify headlines, stories, jumps, photos, graphics and ads. That way each content object can be searched and presented in the best way by the reader interface, and even repurposed in different forms.


Can I build one myself?

Newspapers are notoriously thrifty and DIY (Do It Yourself) is part of the culture. Like most computer software, DIY e-editions might be theoretically possible but building something competitive with commercial products is almost always impractical. Dissecting newspaper PDF pages requires sophisticated software. Building a fast, intuitive page reader interface for a Web browser or as a tablet or smart phone app is also difficult. It requires design skills and constant updating to keep up with equally constant platform changes. Spreading development costs over hundreds of papers yields a service fee lower than the costs of building your own.


Will readers really use it? Isn’t it just for younger readers?

Experience has proven that, yes they will use it, and, no it is not just for young readers. Pollock said, “Offering an e-edition started as an additional service for our subscribers. Now it’s an expected service.”

Desmond found that, “The e-edition is helping us keep stable circulation. We thought it would help attract younger readers but one of our first e-subscribers was a woman in her 80s. We are not sure about the demographics of our e-subscribers but we know some people are flipping to online.” She added, “What I like is, this is easy. What the readers like is it is easy to read and it has the same look as our print edition.”

Pollock noted that on Cape Cod, “Our demographic is older, and we had some trepidation about starting an e-edition for readers whom we figured would not easily give up their paper edition. This wasn’t the case at all. We get plenty of seniors coming in our lobby with iPads, and they’re glad to have the e-edition.”


Will readers 

really pay for it?

The short answer is yes. Readers will pay for Web browser e-editions and iPad apps assuming market-sensitive pricing and packaging.

“We wish the numbers were growing but our subscriber base is stable and a couple hundred of them buy (via) online,” said Desmond. “For the first year of our e-edition we gave everyone who bought it a great price. This year the price online is the same as our in-town print subscription price. We do offer a bundle price for people who want it all. The good news is we think the numbers at the new rate, more than double the introductory price, are holding steady. What I like is this is easy.”


How do e-editions change publishing economics?

From an economic perspective e-editions turn the print publishing cost model upside-down. Although the cost to create print and e-edition content is roughly the same, e-edition production and distribution costs are negligible. That means no practical limits on distribution distance, zoned content, frequency and page count. You never have too many or too few copies, and every copy arrives on time at the same time. Ideas to expand current products or try out new ideas, eBooks or special sections, previously considered too risky or unaffordable, become possible as e-editions.

“We’ve done special issues a few times, to roll out breaking news, such as a house fire, or to use copy prepared for a supplement that didn’t fit when late ads came in,” said Desmond.


How much work is there for the paper to make an e-edition?

For any paper, Pollock probably hit the key point: “Personally, I like the fact that it’s set up and then requires very little intervention on our part.”

Because the e-edition source is a PDF page, all the paper must do to create a print replica e-edition is to upload PDFs to a hosted site. There is no law that PDFs must be printed, or even designed for print. You can also create original digital-only content the same way, formatted for any paper or screen size. That, for example, will let you create original content for the iPad without programming or changing production tools.


Benefits beyond

just numbers…

“We had very good market penetration before adopting an e-edition,” said Pollock, “so our goal wasn’t to boost numbers. Instead, the e-edition has helped deepen our relationship with subscribers by making the content available to people when they want it, in a format they often prefer. There’s been a great symbiosis with our e-mail products (Weekend Update and Breaking News e-mails), which have helped cross-promote our e-edition.”


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