Newspapers Are Dead Scrolls

Clearly the Internet poses a major threat for Newspapers. At the Davos Economic Summit, the Google Guys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were posing the question, “Will Newspapers Survive?” Now apparently Dave Barry has pronounced on this question. For him, “Newspapers Are Dead.

He, as one of the most well known bloggers, is not surprisingly pushing the advantages of blogs. Blogs can be live launch pads for exploration as opposed to those static newspaper pages. Not to be outdone the newspapers are going online. If you can’t beat them, then join them.

Different newspapers are adopting different approaches to the online world. Some like the Globe and Mail appear almost blog-like. It’s completely free and aims to encourage you to sample the greater content to be found in the Print edition. Others such as the New York Times have both a free online version, which is laid out like a typical news-filled web page, and an online subscription version, TimesSelect, available on a 14-day trial. That too looks like a typical news-filled web page.

Which brings us to the online version of the Montreal Gazette, which has been dubbed the Gazette Digital (subscription required). After the one-week free trial, I’m still finding it difficult to feel comfortable with it. To say the least, the concept is novel.

Gazette Digital

This is not a typical online version. One part of it appears like a facsimile of the Print version. This part requires that you scroll around using your mouse. To understand the effect, imagine the screen of your monitor (the view port) as a rectangular hole in the wall of a room. Now imagine you are standing outside the room and your mouse commands how someone within the room displays a double spread page from the physical newspaper. They can bring it as close to the hole as you wish so that you see only a small part of the physical page. Or they can move it far enough away so that you see the full double page spread. Of course it is then so far from your viewing hole that you cannot read the print. You can even arrange that the physical page is brought right up against the hole and you get a magnified view of a very tiny part of the printed page.

This version of the newspaper could certainly not be called a dead scroll. Just a click away from this facsimile of the Print version is a whole collection of individual article pages displayed in text format. They even offer the same page in any of twelve major foreign languages, although there is a disclaimer that this is a computer translation without human verification. Perhaps with enough effort you can figure out the best way to navigate around this online paper, but it is not at all obvious.

The service costs about $ 10 per month and perhaps there are those who will find this package attractive. However even for the New York Times online paid version, which is much more traditional, there are some among the Times management who question its long term potential. Nicholas Ascheim, the NY Times’ director of entertainment, video and audio products, commented on this at the Software & Information Industry Association’s Summit in New York this week. He said that, although TimesSelect had been successful so far, hiding the New York Times’ premium content behind a paid wall could potentially scare off new generations of readers. That in a nutshell is the dilemma the newspaper owners must resolve.

Related: Website Usability and the Montreal Gazette

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