FTW Media

Thoughts about New/Social Media

The NYT E-Reader: What’s the point?

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So the New York Times launched its Times Reader 2.0 . Big Whoop. Frankly, I don’t understand the obsession with media companies trying to emulate the print experience online by creating an E-reader. There have been numerous efforts to launch these e-publications — Monkey Magazine, Wired, and PC Magazine are just three examples — all of which have yet to become used on a regular and widespread basis.

I remember being impressed when Monkey Magazine — a digital lad’s mag — was launched by Dennis Publishing,  immediately signing up the day after. As a concept, it was great: I could turn the pages like I could a regular magazine, there were embedded video clips, the ads were interactive, content was media-rich, etc. But I ended up ditching it after two weeks because it felt like a gimmick and didn’t justify replacing the conventional web-browser. Essentially, I felt like browsing through an all-flash website.

Where the Reader gets it wrong

First, let’s look at who this e-publication is meant for: Those of the older persuasion who are looking for a more print- like experience online because that’s what they’re comfortable with. Now, these are not the most tech-savvy bunch of media consumers who (a) still prefer to get most of their news in print anyway and (b) couldn’t be bothered to look into installing an e-reader. Chuckle all you like, but there are many out there who have yet to know about Firefox and/or install basic Flash plugins. What more Adobe AIR?

And why won’t regular web-users be bothered about something like an e-reader? For one, regular web users are used to getting their news through their browser anyway, so what’s the reason for migrating out of the browser? One could argue that the Times Reader is sleek and easy to navigate through, but it’s not a convincing reason enough, especially when you consider that the reader doesn’t allow you to share a link with friends, is not RSS-compliant, an archive that goes back only 7 days, and doesn’t allow for comments.

The End Game for E-readers

I’m not saying e-readers are worthless. In the next 10 years, we could well be reading newspapers on portable electronic devices that could fit into your pocket, and I really do hope that the day comes sooner. But for now, a desktop/laptop-bound e-reader is unwieldy and impractical. “What about those people who want to read their newspapers offline?” you could ask. Sure, it’s a valid point, but here’s the kicker: would you download an e-newspaper, lug around your netbook/laptop, open it on a train, coffeeshop, toilet, breakfast table — in other words, where anyone normally reads their paper — and read the e-newspaper? You could do it, but you won’t. Only the hardcore geeks would do such a thing, and even then, they’ll just do it for the novelty.

So if the ultimate point of an e-reader is to eventually be incorporated into an ultraportable device, then there definitely is a point to develop something like the Times Reader 2.0. But then, that opens a whole new line of questioning that needs to be addressed before that concept becomes a reality:

1. Is it as easy to carry around as a regular newspaper?

2. Is it easier to obtain a copy of the newspaper through electronic means compared to visiting the newsstand?

3. Is the price of an e-pub comparable to that of a regular paper?

4. If a publishing company decides to ditch its print version altogether for an e-publication, how would they address the needs of those who buy the news off the stand?

The thing about the e-publication is that, as a concept, it works fantastically well. In the future, I may one day download my newspaper onto my Kindle-like device at a touch of a button, have a similar reading experience to that of a print product, and pay less for a copy since the costs of production and distribution are drastically reduced.

In the future. Right now, devices are being made to be portable and readable, but they’re not cheap and nowhere near being ubiquitous. The Times Reader is a product that people would play around with, and while doing so, romanticise about the day when e-publications become commonplace. But that day is still very much an imaginary one.

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Written by John Lim

May 29, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Posted in New Media

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