Why Evgeny Lebedev is wrong about the future of newspaper publishing

Concerning this Guardian interview with the Independent’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, betting the farm on digital publishing, I’d like to say that I think he’s wrong about closing down print newspapers and going all digital.  There are still many, many, many, many stumbling blocks.

I present my case for keeping printed newspapers and magazines around for the foreseeable future…

How do I share my digital edition of X newspaper (presumably with paid subscription) with family and friends without giving them access to my tablet – a general purpose computing device?

When you have access to physical, printed newspaper or book, you can then pass them onto other members of the family, or friends after you’ve read it.  Try doing that with a tablet or computer which has personal information on it.  We’re only getting around to tablets where you can keep user accounts separate.  Even then, it’s a pain in the rear end to have to do this just to read the blasted newspaper!

Whenever I visit my parents, they always have the newspapers and associated magazines in the kitchen for anybody to read.  If they switched to tablets or read the newspapers via their computer – assuming they have a subscription (paywall) – this would be impossible.

Any newspaper that goes online as a website and offers free content in exchange for adverts can significantly slow down your computer/tablet

I’ve come across many publications and the websites for publications where they’ve put 90 billion adverts on their sites, including pop-ups, intrusive cover-ups, video trailers and all manner of crap which I can demonstrate slows down the reader’s computer or tablet UNLESS they use an advert blocker.

This significantly reduces the publisher’s revenue, of course.  But if they didn’t have to rely on potentially dodgy third party advertising schemes that make the reader’s experience an absolute misery (and some of which have demonstrated recently can be used to deliver malware), then they deserve to lose money.

Paywalls aren’t for sharing

I was paying over £17/month for a Times subscription, and the social media/sharing links were about as much use to my friends and family as a dead pigeon playing the accordion.  The articles were severely restricted – often many of them offered a paragraph, and that was it.

Then there is this method of granting access to content in exchange for a bit of interaction via an advert.  I have no time for such nonsense.

pcmag_advert_hell

The Guardian is slightly better in that some articles also appear on the website or the entirely free Guardian app.

The tablet edition of X, Y and Z are all terrible – with poorly thought out usability, or the text is only readable by ants.

My biggest bugbear with digital newspapers and magazines (aside from te sharing issue) is how they present their work on tablets.  For the vast majority of them, they have absolutely no clue as to how to produce a pleasing design that will take full advantage of the interactive tablet platform they’re supposed to work on.

Some publishers just resort to publishing what is essentially a glorified PDF of their magazine (or newspaper), or some bizarre mix of PDF and extracted text. Little to no effort has gone to provide an experience where the text is clear and readable and images fit around them with the ability to enlarge them if necessary.  With most publications it’s all pinch and zoom, pinch and zoom, pinch and ruddy zoom.

Urgh.

Empire Magazine takes the award for being the very best magazine to take full advantage of Apple’s iOS platform to bring a fully interactive version of the print magazine.  It’s incredibly readable,  the navigation is simple, you get animated pages, video content and everything that a fully interactive digital magazine should be.

Future Publishing’s Mac Format is also another good example.  Less interactive, but the layout means that everything is clear and legible across different size tablets and again, is easy to navigate.

In the newspaper market, The Times worked reasonably well as a digital newspaper.  But it had the most annoying “feature” in that if you were in the middle of reading one day’s edition, left the tablet overnight and had it set to retrieve the next edition automatically, you’d lose your place in the previous edition.  Otherwise, The Times wasn’t a bad digital newspaper – although it duplicated many articles within the newspaper to the extra digital supplements for some reason or another.

The Telegraph similarly was a good digital newspaper.  Until they hiked the paywall price up to stupid sums of money.  Clean layout and legible across all tablet sizes.  It was even neater than The Times.  But the price was what stopped me subscribing any further.

The Guardian has been the best subscription digital newspaper for me.  I could share articles that were public (not all items were shareable, but that’s fine – I understand why).  The text and images were always well laid out, legible, and it felt as if I were reading a newspaper.  It was also the cheapest – £11.99/month for Mon-Saturday edition, and for the Observer (Sunday).

I’ve never liked how The Metro, Evening Standard or Independent’s app designs.  They have never been as neatly laid out or “as newspapery” as the others I’ve mentioned.  But they, IIRC, do allow articles to be shared. It’s a step in the right direction, but we still need to get to the point where digital content approaches the same easy to share, easy to read as a printed newspaper or magazine.

Don’t get me started on Kindle books and Amazon and the lack of sharing..

To conclude..

Until I can persuade my parents (and others like them) to buy their own tablets to consume digital content – and I very much doubt I’ll be able to do so despite my going on about how wonderful they can be (given the right apps) – people are still going to want printed newspapers, magazines and books.

Until the publishing world figures out how to make digital content shareable without compromising profit; how to make digital content readable and easy to ready across all the different tablet and computer platforms; and not cost the consumer an arm and leg for doing so, then print will win every time.