wsjepaperFormats vary according to media for a reason: usability. So when Indian newspapers such as Indian Express and now global ones – like Wall Street Journal Asia – add an e-paper alongside their existing news website, it appears they are taking a step back in user-friendliness just for tradition’s sake. Are there any advantages of an e-paper for the reader?

Appearance, Readability: It has the appearance of the physical newspaper copy but on a browser, but does the user really care about the design and ordering of stories or the news – which is offered in a far more readable and social format on the media house’s website? On the e-Paper, you are teased with an article you cant read until you login and then can use the zoom in function. Why do the thumbnails of Pressmart’s application have to be lined vertically rather than horizontally which would make more use of all the white space available and allow readers to look at more thumbnails at a go. The search function is also not accurate. After reading an article on IIM-L, a search with the keyword “IIM-L” brought up 12 records, but not the article I just read. The text view when one is reading a column offers only the body of the article minus the headline. The article ranking system does not work.

Not Latest News: The company communique states that “unlike its subscription website which is updated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the ePaper content is identical to the print paper.” Translation: it is updated only daily. Why would an Internet user with tools such as RSS feeds and access to the latest news want to register, log into an application, scroll page after page. It appears that Pressmart and similar offerings realise this handicap and bundle email subscriptions, email alerts and access to the news websites itself to overcome this. The information they gain from readers by requiring a registration is also what websites themselves do not ask – mobile number, location and age, and this is used to analyse the user’s choices in the articles she chooses to read on the application as well as the media houses’ websites.

Monetisation: What Pressmart is enabling here is monetisation of news online without investing in a website. This is one of the ways to get Internet users to start paying for news, in line with what Murdoch envisions for the media’s future. Wall Street Journal Asia’s website does offer free snippets of news but locks much of its content, requiring surfers to subscribe for full access to the website. The subscription offered is $1.99 per week, and will provide the user news updates as well as an online market data centre. Compare this with the e-paper it has launched on Pressmart’s platform – it charges $16.50 per month, more than double the website’s price.

Sharing: To read and share a news item takes barely 2-3 clicks but on an e-Paper, first one has to register, login and then click to select the article you want to read, wait till it launches and then one is only allowed to share it via Delicious, Twitter and a widget that lets you post it to your blog. It does not tap into any other social networks or allow you to share your comment. Open ID has not yet been implemented.

Digitisation – It appears that media houses are looking to recover their sunken investments in digitising their newspaper archives using e-papers. But by unconsciously sticking to tradition and delivering news over a restrictive online format, will they will turn off their existing and potential readers?

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