I’ve written before about the Toronto Star newspaper’s new-ish eReads program, Star Dispatches. But I’ve never written about it as a subscriber—I signed up two weeks ago, and am pleased to report that, in my mind at least, the service is a big hit!
The program is simple. A dollar a week gets you a new e-book every Friday—you can download it right from the email into the app of your choice (PDF for reading on the computer, or your choice of EPUB or Mobi for iBooks, Kobo or Kindle reading).
As a subscriber, you can also access the library of past installments and download at will among those. There is no DRM or download restrictions thus far, but the welcome email implied that they are keeping an eye on traffic and if it seems there are abuses, they may modify that policy.
The content is drawn from stories that are trending in the Star—last week’s was on the first 100 days in the reign of our new premier, for example. There was another one I downloaded from the past issues archive about a little girl whose family they followed as she battled cancer. I’d gotten a taste of it through the existing coverage in the paper, but the e-book had much more. Each book is designed to be read in about half an hour, so there were journal entries from the reporter, extra photos and other goodies. It was a very well-done story and worth $1 a week.
The subscription price point is low enough that I approve of their decision to flat-fee it and not nickel and dime people for single issues. For $4 a month, I’m OK with the occasional issue that interests me less, and I appreciated having the option to go back and read prior stories they’d put out before I started my subscription.
My one quibble would be that their marketing plan seems to be a little all over the place right now. Sometimes, you can access the e-reads through the Star‘s front page. Other times, you can’t. If you want to access your subscription regularly off the website and not the email links, you’ll have to bookmark their separate homepage. I’m not quite sure why they don’t have a permanent banner on the homepage of their main site.
Additionally, I have a distant relative who writes for the Star. When I reached out to her to get her thoughts on the Dispatches, she was generally positive about the whole thing but seemed to have no plans to write one herself. Why not? If it were me and I were a staff reporter in this economy, I’d be falling all over myself to bond with the new technology. I think this sort of content is what the Star needs to emphasize—to readers, and to staff—if they want to stay relevant.
I have no idea what the Star‘s numbers are for this thing—they seem happy with it, and the vague answers they’ve given when asked have been that it’s good and successful and happy times for everyone. But what I’m really curious about is how many subscribers they have who are like me and don’t actually subscribe to the newspaper itself. I bet those numbers are higher than they might have anticipated.
Overall? Call me a happy customer on this one. The stories are excellent, the depth of coverage just right, the time commitment to read them is manageable, and the fee is painless and reasonable.
This was a good find for me!