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Digital News

More people are reading a daily newspaper without ever touching it. Terence Smith reports on the growing trend of electronic newsprint editions, and how newspaper publishers are working to keep pace with changing technologies.

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  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Each morning, Chuck Hays, an independent business consultant, starts his morning routine with a short commute from his kitchen to his office. Working for himself out of his home, he says he needs to stay on top of the news.

    But Hays subscribes not to the newsprint versions of his five must-read daily papers, but to the newest wrinkle in newspaper delivery: Electronic editions. He downloads complete electronic replicas of the papers into his computer, turning the pages digitally.

    While most readers continue to receive newspapers at home, at the newsstand, or through the mail, these early adapters are turning to a new technology that could eventually jeopardize the job of the traditional delivery person.

    These electronic editions, as they are known, are an exact copy of the newspaper that can be downloaded into a computer overnight, or at any time, for a monthly subscription fee.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Chuck Hays:

  • CHUCK HAYS:

    It really comes down to your own personal habits and what's important to you. I just like to digest a lot of information very quickly and this is a great way to do it. It's on my schedule and my time.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Using a high-speed dialup, people can download a paper in minutes and then disconnect.

  • EMPLOYEE, USA Today:

    Let's put his mug in the newsline.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Here at USA Today, the staff is laying out the next day's paper and the digital edition.

    The electronic replica offers readers the same the layout as the paper, plus the option to change the type size, save old editions, and search the newspaper archive at any time.

    Many electronic edition readers find that newspaper Web sites do not provide the same depth and are more difficult to explore.

  • CHUCK HAYS:

    I like to go after a lot of information; I'm selective about what I want to read. I found that in going through menus and lists of titles and things on a Web site, it took me longer to find the things that are of interest to me than to actually look through the pages and look at them.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Still in their infancy, the electronic editions are gaining popularity with different types of people, from snowbirds to business travelers to avid sports fans and students who have moved far from their hometown newspaper.

    Currently, some 160 U.S. newspapers offer electronic editions, and more than 225 papers worldwide.

    Rob Runett, the director of electronic media for the Newspaper Association of America, says newspaper publishers are trying to change with the times.

  • ROB RUNETT:

    You can start to see some changes and expansion in terms of the flexibility and the overall relationship that a publisher can offer to a customer, and I think this is a great advantage. With these electronic editions, you're creating another opportunity for someone to interact with your product.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    The electronic editions can provide different services to different readers. The Sacramento Bee, for example, is trying to lure out-of-town readers with its coverage of California politics.

    The E-Pilot, the Virginian-Pilot's digital newspaper, markets its news to different segments of the population which might have difficulty getting the newsprint version.

    For example, military officers overseas hungry for news from home, and local university students who are attracted by subsidized subscriptions. During Hurricane Isabel, the E-Pilot was the only way that readers could get the news in some areas.

    Another way to get an electronic edition is through these kiosks or ATM-like machines, that have been placed in hotel lobbies around the world. Say you're visiting here at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, and you're from overseas and you'd like to get a paper from India.

  • Here’s your choice:

    Several. You want the Times of India and you put in a credit card and pay to print. And here it comes out, the today's paper available here in Washington for $4.75 through the electronic edition.

    At this kiosk, about 70 people are downloading papers each month from Poland to Panama, as well as major papers from across the United States.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    So far, newspapers have seen little profit from the electronic editions, but the subscriptions do count towards another important number: Their overall circulation totals, which in turn drive advertising dollars.

    Newspaper corporations, like The Washington Post, which introduced its electronic edition this summer, believe it bolsters their brand.

    Stephen Hills is president and general manager of The Washington Post. He says some 800 subscribers have signed up for the service. They pay $9.95 a month, or $120 a year for an e-edition compared to $180 for a yearly paper home subscription.

  • STEPHEN HILLS:

    It's very expensive to produce The Washington Post. Once you've got the content, then putting it on electronically is relatively inexpensive. So it's really what people are paying for is sustaining the entire enterprise and all the journalists and everything that goes into making the Post everyday.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Hills says washingtonpost.com, which has 8 million unique users each month in the U.S. and about a million overseas, goes hand in hand with the e-edition.

  • STEPHEN HILLS:

    Our research shows for the Web site overall is that people are often using them in tandem and you want to read the first edition, whether it's print or paper and really read exactly what you want to read and then you can update, find out what's going on during the day, and keep finding out the latest news on a 24-hour basis.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Newspapers are looking ahead to new technology that will make electronic editions more convenient.

    Portable tablet PCs, for example, could help the reader on the go. And e-ink, which is in use now on signs in stores and on billboards, is produced by electric currents. The same technology can be applied to so-called "flexible paper."

  • PAUL DRZAIC, E Ink Corp.:

    The coolest thing would be a piece of electronic paper which would have wireless communication capabilities so you could have your New York Times beamed on to a piece of paper and every morning your piece of media newspaper would rewrite itself.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    By distributing the news wirelessly, publishers could cut down on circulation and newsprint costs. To all this technology and the future of electronic editions, Rob Runett of the Newspaper Association of America says: "Play ball."

  • ROB RUNETT:

    I think we're very early on in the life-span of these, sort of the first inning of a doubleheader baseball game where they're just starting.

  • JEFF WEBBER:

    Reduce the size of the image so you can see the full page.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    But Jeff Webber, senior vice president and publisher of usatoday.com, says don't expect the ink-stained newspaper to go the way of the dinosaur.

  • JEFF WEBBER:

    I'm as much a newspaperman as I am an electronic newspaperman. So I believe that newspapers will exist. I think it's similar to other media that's come along in the last hundred years. They add value and they change but certainly they'll exist.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    So innovation may be key to helping newspapers keep pace with the technological times.

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