Their enthusiasm was not difficult to understand. E-papers, which are an exact replica of the physical newspapers hosted on the net, brought several advantages to the newspaper industry.
Several newspapers tried to capitalise on these advantages, and even levied a subscription fee. The hope was that internet users would pay for the e-papers, very much like the way they pay for physical papers.
However, this was not to be. The internet users, spoilt by easy availability of free content, did not open up their purses. The subscription model failed to take off, and today almost all e-papers can be browsed without paying any subscription charges.
The most notable exception is The Hindu. This doughty newspaper from the south did not give up. It refused to give away the e-paper for free. One does not know how many paid subscribers it has acquired over the years, but even today it is aggressively seeking paid subscribers as is clear from the newspaper’s highly attractive trial offer.
You can subscribe to The Hindu’s trial offer for one month which has been priced at Rs 30. If you like it, you can convert your trial offer to regular subscription, which is priced at Rs 175 for one month, Rs 500 for three months and Rs 1,800 for one year.
If The Hindu succeeds, the other newspapers, which too have invested in e-papers, can consider charging for them. After all, e-papers do offer some advantages to the internet users. It is another matter that these advantages are offset by some serious disadvantages.
Let’s look at the advantages first.
1. Improved archiving
The e-paper is a librarian’s delight. Newspapers don’t have to create large morgues with temperature and humidity controls to save printed newspapers for tomorrow. The e-papers are digital, can’t be eaten by termites or turn brittle and crack with the passage of time. They don’t swallow space. Multiple back up files can be created to safeguard against the eventuality of a server crash or files getting corrupted.
2. Easy access
E-papers can be accessed from anywhere in the world. All that is needed is internet connectivity and access to media websites. Users can browse the day’s edition or a one-year-old edition instantly.
3. Search facility
Users don’t have to turn scores of pages to access reports of their interest. They can use the search box to locate current and old stories.
4. Higher shelf life
Another big advantage is that e-papers have increased the shelf life of the physical newspapers. A physical newspaper, by its very nature, has a very low shelf life. The product expires if it is not sold within the first few hours of printing. The e-papers are evergreen. They don’t have to be trashed or recycled.
No wonder, almost all newspapers across the world have digitized their newspapers files, and launched e-papers of their current editions. If this is so, then why are e-papers considered a poor Internet product?
# Why are e-papers considered a poor Internet product?
Internet is an instant medium. Users want to learn about events as they happen. E-papers contain news that is one day old. So, why should one read stale news? It is of use to only those web users who cannot access a physical copy of the newspaper or who are scholars researching old content.
The newspaper web teams retrieve the best stories published in the newspaper and publish it on the website. These stories are time stamped and search-based. They are published along with current stories. So, why should web users visit the e-paper to read the same stories again?
This is why e-papers, despite all their advantages, have failed to enthuse web readers.