The New Zealand Herald sent an email today inviting readers to subscribe to a NZ$25 a month digital edition.
This is a good idea. A digital edition is an exact electronic copy of the print edition. The paper is available online at 6am each day. It is separate from the website version of the paper at http://nzherald.co.nz.
You can read the digital edition from a Windows PC or Mac in a browser. There are apps for iOS and Android users.
Read on PCs, tablets, phones
The NZ Herald digital edition displays well on a big PC screen. A digital facsimile of the daily paper would be a joy to read on, say, the large version of the iPad Pro. You’ll get by fine on most laptops and 10-inch tablets.
A digital newspaper is harder work on a mobile phone. Small screens are not the best way to read tabloid pages. Yet even that format can be useful sometimes.
Digital newspaper editions are not new. They’ve been around since the 90s. A digital version of The New Zealand Herald was available on Pressdisplay (now called PressReader) when the Herald was still a broadsheet.
Like a newspaper, without paper
There are two reasons why a digital edition could be better than reading a website. First, web news pages lack context. You can instantly grasp the relative importance of stories and how they relate to each other.
While editors place the most important stories at the top of a list on a site’s home page, that’s not the same. And anyway, few readers arrive via the home page. For most news context is something decided by a Google algorithm or another automatic process.
Online news sites serve up atomised news, digital editions give a bigger picture.
The other aspect of old school print papers that you miss when reading news websites is the lack of filtering.
Papers are organised into sections: News, world news, business, sport and so on, but they serve up a wide range of material within these broad sections. You’ll find you’ll read more widely and are better informed — even if that is just a matter of glancing at headlines in passing.
The downside of a digital edition is that is out of date after publication. Although you might see this as a positive if you think of it a snapshot frozen in time.
At $25 a month, the NZ Herald digital edition is about half the price of having the print edition delivered. Some print subscriptions include the digital edition at no extra cost. For some readers that makes the digital edition great added value.
Given the high cost of printing and distribution, it might seem the publisher isn’t passing on all the potential cost savings.
In practice, it’s more complicated. Setting up the technology to deliver a digital edition is expensive, it may require frequent tweaking. Reader numbers for digital editions is often a fraction of print edition reader numbers. So these costs are shared by a relatively low number of readers.
One trick the Herald’s digital edition marketing effort has missed is offering a sample edition so potential customers can check the format is right for them.
Six years ago Rupert Murdoch hailed tablets as the newspaper industry’s saviour. That was premature. The industry is still stumbling to find a way to make money after the advertising apocalypse. Digital editions could help, but it puts the onus back on publishers to ensure the journalism is worth paying for.
Bill Bennett writes features for New Zealand Herald business reports.