The Microsoft-powered NY Times Reader has been around as a beta product for several months but I just got around to downloading it last week. That was a long, slow and painful process. But once I did it was something of a revelation. I know, that’s very strong language. But I think that the NY Times and Microsoft have done something pretty amazing.
They’ve successfully recreated the experience of reading a physical paper online. Reading the newspaper in print, as you know, is very different than searching and scanning the online version of the NY Times. When I read the online version it’s purely a utilitarian thing. I’m looking at headlines and scanning articles quickly — the top and bottom paragraphs of stories — to get information. Only rarely do I read an article from start to finish.
I suspect this is similar to what other people experience with online news. But, by its nature, reading the physical newspaper is a much more pleasurable activity and leads to discovery of information and articles that would not be similarly investigated online. I would argue that reading a physical newspaper has an “aesthetic” dimension the online version lacks, despite having more dynamic capabilities (i.e., rich media/video, community).
The Times Reader enables users to navigate through the content of the paper in a variety of ways. One can search or see all articles at a glance or “page” through articles and sections, which much more closely duplicates the experience of reading a print newspaper than reading it online at NYTimes.com.
In a sense — although it’s somewhat trite to put it this way — this product offers the “best of both worlds”: the flexibility and depth of the online version combined with the appeal of the experience of the physical newspaper. In many ways, it’s the best “user experience” the Times has to offer. (Younger readers might not entirely agree with this rhapsodic review.)
In observing my own interaction with the Reader I found that I was reading more stories and more of each story than I would ordinarily online. Also the resolution and presentation of the text on the pages more closely duplicates the print newspaper than the online edition can.
The Times Reader is coming out of beta and about to become a subscription product:
Times Reader is priced annually at $165 or monthly at $14.95, but is available to home-delivery subscribers at no additional cost. Subscriptions include access to TimesSelect and Premium Crosswords as well as a range of Times Reader tools and features, including a seven-day archive, the ability to annotate articles, a Topic Explorer and News in Pictures. New subscribers to Times Reader will be offered a 30-day free trial period upon registration.
It’s not clear to me how many new Reader subscribers the Times will capture — especially given the painful download process, which creates a barrier to adoption — but the company will likely retain some print subscribers to get access to this product. I’m one of those print subscribers who was thinking about canceling but who now won’t for this reason.
There’s more to say about how a product like Reader might affect a publisher’s online strategy more broadly. For example, does this product “free” publishers to experiment more aggressively with the “traditional” online edition; or does this represent part of an audience segmentation strategy that offers different content presentations and user experiences to different audiences?
I’d be curious to hear what others think. You can download the Times Reader here.
NEWSPAPERS’ ONLINE AD REVENUES GREW 35% to $745.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared to the same quarter in 2005–accounting for 5.4% of all newspaper ad revenue in 2006, according to new figures released Thursday by the Newspaper Association of America.
For full year 2006 versus 2005, online ad revenues grew 31.5% to a total $2.7 billion. The fourth quarter of 2006 is the 11th consecutive quarter to see double-digit increases in online ad spending on a year-over-year basis. First quarter 2006 grew 34.9% to $613 million, the second quarter 33.2% to $667 million, and the third quarter 23% to $638 million.
The importance of online revenues to the future of newspapers is undeniable, given the print-online breakdown. Revenues were up 2.2% on a year-over-year basis to $14 billion, but this was due to online growth. Considered separately, print ad revenue is down 3.7% to about $13.2 billion. Overall revenue for the industry was flat in 2006, with most print categories down slightly.