Just Like Reading the Paper?

readingThe bus I took to work this morning was all decked out with National Post advertising, for their new ePaper program. The ad, which you can see via this info link, features a pair of hands holding a tablet-esque device which is bent, like a newspaper, and looks just like the print National Post. The slogan? ‘It’s just like reading the paper.’

The details were predictable enough. It’s a straight print replica which lets you do such revolutionary things as search, bookmark, share via social media or view extra photo galleries. You get it free if you are a paper subscriber, or you can pay for just digital access.

It’s better than nothing, I suppose. But I have written before about the perils of a too-rigid adherence to the print replica model. Layouts, column sizes, story arrangements and so on which were optimized for newspaper broadsheet sized pages may not be the ideal arrangements for a phone-sized screen…

Think of it another way—what would you say to a washing machine manufacturer who went to great lengths to make sure that the power button spun around and around in a circle, so as to mimic the hand-crank of the pre-electricity hand washers? Would you say that is a waste of time and effort?

3 Comments on Just Like Reading the Paper?

  1. There are reasons why a print replica makes sense:

    1. The format itself makes sense. It allow people to scan headlines and probe more deeply into stories they like. Unlike sidebars and scrolling list, it also allows a paper the ability to stress some stories over others.

    2. If the format really is identical, it saves the paper time and money. Editors at papers actually debate what goes on the front page, what goes above the fold, and what gets large type. Those decisions matter a lot, particularly the tight time restraints of many readers. Having made those decisions for the print version, they’re also made for the digital version. I do the same with my books. I’ve designed a format that works with both print and digital.

    And those decisions alter history. The NY Times did cover reports of the Holocaust during WWII, but it typically placed them past page 20 in small type. Today, the paper claims that was how they dealt with their uncertainty about whether the reports were true. But critics of the paper claim the NY Times was actually saying, “Yes, this is happening but it doesn’t matter much.”

    Backing up the latter’s POV is the fact that the story clearly mattered enough it ought to be on the front page. And if there were doubts about the story’s authenticity, they could be included in the article. My own hunch is that the NYT was taking its lead from FDR. The President wanted the story buried and nothing done, so they obligingly buried it, much as, a decade earlier, they’d buried stories of Stalin’s Ukrainian genocide.

    There’s a third benefit for papers. That patchwork quilt of articles makes it easier to slip in advertisements and harder for readers to ignore them. That means money.

    Personally, I’m more interested in the technology behind this intriguing, large-format, flexible, color epaper gadget. With the Kindle DX now history, it’d be delightful to have a device that’d connect via WiFi and display epub and pdf.

  2. The ads are for people who, unlike us, aren’t that comfortable with digital anything so they stress how similar the experience is to reading a paper newspaper.

  3. Greg Schofield // May 11, 2014 at 7:42 pm //

    Michael Perry is spot on many of the print conventions have a universal logic which should be transferred to electronic devices.

    However for this to work we need large, (hopefully flexible), light weight, colour screens. Or an effective VR device.

    What we have now is transitional and it produces the problems of being in-between. Hence the old rules cannot apply well. However, following the print conventions in a flexible way ( apply and disengage style sheets), seems to the best option because of this.

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