Ala. Paper Sells PDF Version

By: Jim Rosenberg

Late last summer. The Andalusia (Ala.) Star-News began offering anyone living outside Covington County a monthly subscription to the 3,400-circulation daily online rather than on paper — not the newspaper’s Web site but its full daily edition in Portable Document Format (PDF).

Response has been modest: “maybe 25 subscribers — that’s with no marketing,” said Systems Manager John Corbin. Another 25 politicians and other influential persons receive complimentary “Digital Download” subscriptions, and the service adds one or two new paid subscribers each month, he said.

The rate for online delivery may be the same as out-of-county postal delivery, but the Digital Download arrives between 9 p.m. and midnight, several hours before in-county printed copies are delivered and at least a day before most out-of-county printed copies arrive by mail. Corbin said many readers outside Covington County “don’t want to wait for the paper,” which occasionally arrives missing the classified ads or other sections.

Because those readers are already paying an out-of-county rate, their cost is no higher. And because the Star-News “is making the PDFs anyway” for its electronic archive, said Corbin, the service “is more than paying for itself.”

The Star-News Web site’s news and information doesn’t include the printed paper’s weddings and engagements, some of its social news and photos, full obituaries, and religious columns. In appearance, however, about the only differences between PDF files and inked papers are the former’s smaller size, absence of some non-electronically produced ads, and deliberately reduced resolutions to cut downloading times for those with slower connections — the only source of complaints, according to Corbin, who said the lower resolution is only noticeable in some comics’ line art.

At a Boone Newspapers Inc. retreat last summer, some managers complained of digital editions’ start-up costs, such as managing online subscriptions and passwords. “I … realized that wasn’t the case,” said Corbin, who proposed merely changing the online location of the Digital Download edition’s folder each day and e-mailing subscribers a link to that Web address (where they also may access editions from the preceding two months).

Corbin said the paper does not now include Digital Download subscribers in its circulation figure. Neither has it studied the impact of ads that are generally rendered smaller, whether a page is sent to a printer or viewed on screen. In the latter case, however, a PDF page may be easily magnified, delivering an online-only benefit to those who otherwise find the comparatively small printed type too small to read.

As reported by E&P Online last month, papers across the country are experimenting with digital delivery of their print editions.

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