February 25, 2004

Today, Berlingske Tidende (one of three major Danish broadsheet newspapers) launched its “digital edition”: a souped-up PDF edition of the newspaper. According to a series of articles in Berlingske, a large number of Danish papers plan to launch digital-replica editions later this year. A number of editors and sales managers quoted in Berlingske state that the idea behind the digital edition is simply to give away less, and make readers pay for more. That seems sensible, but is the digital edition the right solution? Is it the right product?

The Berlingske digital edition is a PDF-like version of the printed paper with built-in navigation. Readers view the section covers or all pages on the left half of the page, and click the individual articles on the right, which show up in plain text. On a broadband connection, navigation is fluent. But something basic is still wrong, and the digital edition will never be a replacement for true Internet editions, in my view. First of all, it’s nothing more than a frozen paper edition. It lacks 24-hour updating, interactivity, etc. And as for the marketing boss from Kristeligt Dagblad who argues that digital editions are easier to navigate than “confusing” newspaper websites: well, someone ought to buy him a 15-minute session with usability expert Jakob Nielsen. Digital editions of newspapers may become a minor source of income, but they will never attract more readers than newspaper websites for one simple reason: It’s paper layout squeezed onto a computer screen.

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Ernst Poulsen is commissioning newseditor at www.dr.dk - the website of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Prior to that he was news- and webeditor at Copenhagen…
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