Nobody Wants the PDF Paper

New figures from Norwegian Media Businesses’ Association show that virtually nobody is interested in PDF version of newspapers.

PDF accounts for 0.07 percent of total newspaper circulation in Norway, according to the trade magazine Kampanje (in Norwegian). Combined, Norwegian newspapers sold 1850 PDF copies daily last year. Even for a small country, this figure is low to the point of insignificance. Regional newspaper Bergens Tidende has the highest PDF circulation in the country, with a not-so-staggering daily sale of 128 copies.

I’m sure the PDF fiasco has several explanations. Of course, there’s the price issue. Most Norwegian PDF editions cost approximately $2 USD each. Then there’s the added hassle of downloading 10-20 MB on some patchy narrowband service in Faraway County, Distantistan.

And when do you think most people would like a PDF copy of their local paper? When on holiday in Distantistan, of course — where there’s sure to be a printer ready to print your 64 pages of local stories and classifieds, right? Yeah, right — you’ll have to make do with reading on screen.

So which version would you prefer to read on screen? The updated, free online edition that carries most of the same stories, you say? Thought so.

Alan Abbey notes that JPost.com, the online edition of the Jerusalem Post, quietly dropped its e-paper (pay to read/subscribe) offerings from its site in the last few weeks. (Disclosure: Abbey was editor-in-chief and managing director of JPost.com, 2002-2004.)

Said Abbey, “People don’t necessarily want to pay for a digital version of a static (that is, old) print publication when they can get the updated version online for free. For instance, Haaretz (the other English-language daily in Israel) makes a free PDF available online. It’s an antiquated one-page-at-a-time system, about 350-550 kb per page. But it’s free. I can’t imagine too many people use it.”

Peter Zollman notes that PDF (portable document format) is a proprietary but open format. Digital editions (e-editions) published using Olive, NewsStand, Zinio or other proprietary services deliver a much different experience from a PDF. (Disclosure: Zollman has consulted for several digital edition technology providers, none of them recently.)

Said Zollman, “Of course, digital editions could be updated and made more interactive through embedded audio, video, or multimedia files, etc. But not many publishers of digital editions are doing that — and given the current state of the industry, I don’t know that any ever will. Personally, I see digital editions as a niche product, like another delivery truck. If a newspaper can generate one or two percent in additional circulation with a digital edition, that’s a win. And they’re also terrific tools for broad distribution when regular distribution fails — such as getting 12 feet of snow in six days, or a hurricane or tornado wipes out the printing plant.”

To this, Abbey adds: “JPost.com had a nice-looking digital edition produced by Olive Software, an Israeli company. I have seen Olive Software working for more than four years and it is amazing. I think it has value for archival material that will not otherwise be digitized. But for the current daily paper, I don’t see it catching on.”

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