Friday, May 30, 2008

BPN 1114 Newspapers become unstuck from print

Yesterday I attended a presentation by Gert Jan Oelderik, the managing director/publisher of the Dutch quality paper NRC Handelsblad, part of the PCM Holding. The newspaper started two months ago with presenting the newspaper on iLiad as ePaper.

Mt Oelderik started out with the statement that a printed newspaper is a different beast from an electronic newspaper. An edition of 32 pages will end up as 195 electronic pages. The screen is too small to render a broadsheet on the iLiad digital paper eReader. He found the iLiad basically rudimentary and not exactly user-friendly; for this he referred to the on and off knob hidden on the bottom of the eReader (see illustration). But yet he saw the iLiad as a first step and was very optimistic about the development of eReaders. Full colour could be expected, perhaps larger screens and even a double screen imitating the left and right pages of a newspaper. And perhaps the digital paper would be rolleable and flexible. But this would take some time.

He was very proud of the fact that the ePaper did not cannibalise the printed newspaper. A subscription on the printed newspaper will cost the subscriber 309 euro annually. But with the ePaper the printing and the distribution costs had been removed showing a subscription price of 189 euro for electronic news and information.

The last remark triggered a discussion on the future of electronic newspapers. Mr Oelderik took the position that newspapers had hardly changed since 1828 when NRC was founded. Now in the digital age the newspaper had the opportunity to get delivered as printed newspapers, through internet and as ePapers. Of course it begged the question about the content of newspapers. Now the printed newspaper is a collection of items from news wires and information in the form of background articles. The news items can be found everywhere and are not unique to a newspaper; however the information is specifically of the newspaper’s editorial staff, the freelancers and occasional contributors. Mr Oelderik supposed that in two years the website would go on black as people will have to pay for the electronic newspapers. This was an interesting observation as many newspapers have gone back to free access and no paid web newspaper has made any profit. Yet he expected a shift from subscribers of the printed newspapers to subscribers of other subscriptions. Subscriptions would give a subscriber the right to printed information, web information, pod and vod information as well as to the ePaper, including news items. Presently NRC Handelsblad has 280.000 subscription relationships, including 6.000 web subscriptions and 1250 ePaper subscriptions. The electronic subscriptions are still not in the double digits, but Mr Oelderik is very optimistic about it.

There was also an extensive discussion on advertisements. Presently the printed broadsheet has advertisements, just as the website edition. However the ePaper edition does not have advertisement. A subscriber pays for the news and information. The price for that, less printing and distribution, is 189 euro. However it has not been established yet, whether advertisement will be added; ads can be used to leverage the profitability later on.

The ePaper has been one of three spearheads for the editorial staff: ePaper, NRC TV and the book portal. The ePaper is to address the early adopters. NRC TV is to aim at the YouTube generation and the book portal is for the intellectuals.

Blog Posting Number: 1114

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