By: Wayne Robins
Don’t like newsprint but love your Beacon Journal? The Akron, Ohio, paper launched an electronic edition Sept. 9. It’s priced at $8.95 a month, though a bundled online-and-print fee is in the works.
Beacon Journal Digital can be accessed only by using a high-speed Internet connection, such as a cable modem or DSL. A two-week free trial (no credit card required) is available, and even recommended. “We encourage people to try it out free for a couple of weeks,” says Mike Needs, director of Beacon Journal Interactive (BJI).
The digital edition uses the nearly ubiquitous Adobe Acrobat for file conversion, as well as BJI’s proprietary software. “We wrote a lot of code on our end of the process,” Needs says. “It takes the paginated pages that we produce each night for the newspaper,” he says, and runs it “through a process that does a bunch of special things.” Interactive links and additional graphics are included, and internal page relationships set. The last step is to convert the newspaper into Adobe Acrobat files.
The BJI approach could have uses for other Knight Ridder sites, and even beyond the chain. “We looked at the marketplace pretty carefully. We understand what Newsstand [Inc.] and Olive [Software Inc.] are offering, and we think those are good products,” Needs says of two companies specializing in the electronic-edition business. “But for papers already paginating that would be interested in a turnkey solution we could send to them, their digital editions could be up and running in two days. Working with Knight Ridder corporate, we think we can show some success to other newspapers. You never know, because it’s a new way for people to read the newspaper, and avid readers are creatures of habit.”
Among the bells and whistles are extra photos that don’t appear in the print edition, simplified searching for classified ads, and e-mail links to reporters accessible by clicking on their bylines.
The Akron Beacon Journal has been working on digital innovations for years. A CD-ROM edition caught people’s attention, but turned out to be financially impractical on a daily basis.
“We haven’t totally abandoned the CD for specialized purposes,” Needs says. “But with the CDs costing roughly 25 cents apiece and then having to account for distribution costs as well as deadline issues,” the cost of materials was too high. But weekly CD-ROMs may be practical, and BJI is exploring such possibilities. Meanwhile, Needs knows the market for the digital daily edition is still uncertain. “I am hopeful,” he says, “but I am also realistic.”