Friday, March 07, 2008

BPN 1030 NRC ePaper: out goes the paper delivery boy

From yesterday onwards, the Dutch quality paper NRC Handelsblad will be available as NRC Handelsblad ePaper with the print and web editions. It is the first Dutch newspaper available on a digital paper reader. The agreement between the newspaper conglomerate PCM, of which NRC Handelsblad is part of, and the digital paper reader manufacturer iRex Technologies was signed last year.

Technology
NRC Handelsblad ePaper will only be available on the iLiad. The advantage of the eReader is the availability worldwide on hotspots; downloading an average edition will take about 20 seconds. The disadvantage is the black and white screen with 16 grey tones. Besides downloading the newspaper, magazines and books, the tablet can also be used as a writing pad and annotations in the paper, magazine and books can be made.

From the first photographs the lay out can be detected. When the Belgian financial daily De Tijd experimented with the iLiad, the front page was similar to the front page of the printed edition. By ticking on the article, a readable version would pop up. This technology is common with the pdf-like facsimiles of printed newspapers on the web. The French Les Echos developed an interface, which can be described as a vertical ticker tape, summing up the sections and the headlines in the left column and a few lead-ins of articles. It looks like NRC Handelsblad has chosen for a list of bullets in the left row and articles from the front page.

Businessmodel
While the French financial newspaper Les Echos gave the readers a choice of the wireless iLiad and internet linked Cybook, NRC Handelsblad ePaper offers only the iLiad to its readers. Beside a certain element of Dutch pride between a quality paper and a Philips spin-off, NRC Handelsblad has chosen for a wireless device instead of an internet-linked reading device.

The newspaper will be every weekday available at 3 p.m. and on Saturday at 7 a.m. The newspaper will transmit the full paper including special sections. The newspaper has not announced daily updates yet.

Interesting is the price. Annual subscriber to NRC Handelsblad can purchase the iLiad for 499 euro. New subscribers will get the reader plus a one year ePaper subscription for 699 euro. An owner of the iLiad and not yet subscriber of NRC Handelsblad will pay 189 euro for the ePaper subscription. An annual subscription to the printed edition of NRC Handelsblad is 305 euro. The newspaper will save the costs of the delivery boy costs at 116 euro a year. In the subscription is a bundle of a 1Gb memory stick with a book of the a famous Dutch author Geert Mak and an e-zine of the newspaper cartoonists Fokke & Sukke. (Geert Mak wrote an one kilo weighing book In Europe; there is an eBook version, but this is not included in the offer; it would have proven the benefit of the 450 grams eReader). The bundle can be seen as a first attempt to include PCM’s book publishers.

Social acceptance
NRC Handelsblad has a population of 280.000 readers. It is a quality paper. But the readers can not be seen as early adaptors. So it will take time to sell the concept; even more as the eReader is the most expensive one around presently. When a spokesperson for NRC Handelsblad was asked for the status of the development of the eReader by a reporter of Emerce magazine last November, he answered that NRC Handelsblad would wait till the eReader would be attractive to a large group of readers. It could take two to three years before a break through. Whether this break through has come after half a year later, was not made clear.

NRC Handelsblad realises that it is the first Dutch ePaper. It has set up a forum to collect the remarks and suggestions of the ePaper subscribers.

NRC Handelsblad is the first PCM newspaper of the PCM conglomerate to launch the ePaper. It is known that De Volkskrant also experiments with the iLiad; so far it has not announced a launch date. Most likely they will await the reaction o the NRC Handelsblad ePaper.

The general acceptance of eReaders is going slow. When Amazon.com launched its Kindle, it announced that it had sold 10.000 units before the launch. iRex Technologies sold 10.000 units worldwide in 2006, its first year.

Will NRC Handelsblad be a success?
NRC Handelsblad has chosen to launch the ePaper on its own strength with the support of iRex Technologies. The marketing people have applied a smart pricing policy by excluding the physical delivery boy. The bundle with one book and an e-zine will not bring in an extra subscriber. But this launch will not profit from the iPod model, a combination of an affordable device, broad offer of songs, a service without handicaps, reasonable priced content and a reliable promotor, which worked for Apple iTunes and =the Kindle of Amazon.com The iLiad device is sexy and innovative, but still too expensive; even the 499 euro offer for subscribers to the print editions, is not attractive. The assortment of newspapers, magazines and books is not broad yet. It looks like there will be a 2/7 service. And the content is reasonably priced. Despite the fact that NRC Handelsblad is an A brand, the expensive eReader and the limited offer will not make the newspaper the promoter for the text iPod in the Netherlands. Given a country with 16,4 million people and some 22 million Dutch language speakers worldwide, a common effort of publishers, distributors, bookshops and manufacturer should have been generated to popularise the text iPod in a short time, with a broad offer and an affordable eReader.

Blog Posting Number: 1010

Tags: e-book, eReader, ePaper, digital paper, , ,

1 comment:

Arno Wouters said...

It is now 7 months later and although I applaud NRC's courage to experiment with an ePaper edition to my disappointment I have to draw the conclusion that they make a mess of it.

I am one of the 500 or so NRC readers who bought an iLiad in combination with an ePaper subscription in the first week that this was available and I am very disappointed.

According to the advertisements of the NRC the ePaper is easily available via wifi everywhere in the world at any time you want. This is more than slightly exaggerated. The iLiad requires a direct connection with a router and refuses to connect to 'ad-hoc' networks set up by computers, pdas or smartphones. The iLiad does not connect to hotspots (in hotels, railway stations, airports and so on) that require a login via a browser either, nor to most secure company networks.

The ePaper itself turns out to be a half-baked product, that has been put on the market without sufficient preparation and testing. The ePaper is produced by extracting text from a pdf of the paper edition more or less OCR like. The results are what you can expect from such a process. Many articles are unreadable, they look as if they are blended with a mixer. Columns with short articles appear as one paragraph without any typography. Articles end half way and continue 50 pages later. Links do not work. The front page of the weekend edition is often absent. Regularly there is a whole supplement lacking. The media pages are an unreadable mess. Last monday they missed the most important news in the Netherlands. And so on, and so on.

The NRC boasts a dedicated users forum but they, wisely, opened it only for those who are already subscribed. If potential subscribers were able to read it they would find so many complaints that were never answered, so many problems that were never explained, so many proposed solutions that were ignored or turned down without good reason, and so many promisses that were never fulfilled, that they would never consider buying something from the NRC again.

You can read more about my experience with the NRC, its ePaper and the iLiad on my website.

Readers who understand Dutch will find good information at the NRC ePaper wiki at MobileRead.