Irish Times Email Edition Takes the Text-Only Road

By: Steve Outing

While the World Wide Web gets the headlines and the hype, there's another side to Internet publishing that bears serious attention: Email delivery. It may not be as sexy as the Web, but email remains the primary activity of many Internet users -- and for people in many underdeveloped countries, email is the only component of the Internet that's available.

Several newspapers are experimenting with email editions in addition to operating Web sites, including the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska and the Christian Science Monitor (the latter reported on here last week). Last week, the Irish Times in Dublin launched its email edition for a free trial (The paper also operates a Web site). In several weeks, it will become a subscription-based service.

The Irish Times' online publishing guru, Joe Breen, reports that the text-only email edition will be produced six times a week and will cost $120 US per year or $40 per quarter. It will be solely subscriber-fee supported, with no ads at this time (possibly later). The service is free for a trial period, but once it goes commercial there will probably be a free trial for new readers before they have to pay.

What a subscriber receives each day are three email messages, each approximately 2,000 words. The messages contain different sections of the paper: Front Page, Home News, Foreign News, Financial News, Opinion, Sports and Editorials. The number of stories varies, but they are all heavily edited versions of what appears in print, sort of like longish digests. There is also an option to fetch the full text of any story.

The target audiences for the service are "the Irish diaspora and Irish organizations and companies abroad," Breen says. "Some state and semi-state companies also have expressed a strong interest." It is not expected to attract paying customers from within Ireland, but rather to serve the Irish population that is scattered around the world and who want news from the homeland that's fresher than a week-old mailed print edition of the Irish Times.

"We've aroused a lot of interest and we are continuing to sign up a lot of folks for the free trial," he says. "People like the way we have tried to put the Irish side of stories like that of the peace process in Northern Ireland, but there are some understandable doubts about the volume of material."

Some of the material in the email edition is also available on the Irish Times' Web site, but, of course, readers have to go to the Web and log in to the site to get the news, while the email edition is delivered to them. Email readers trade the convenience of "home delivery" for the graphics and photos on the Web edition.

Says Breen, "The reasoning behind the email edition is to service people who either don't have or don't want Web access and who want a succinct guide to what is happening in Ireland in news terms." It also serves readers in countries where email is available, but other Internet services like access to the Web are not. For many people, email is their only connection to the Internet, so publishers need to serve that market, Breen says.

And while the text-only edition of the paper may seem quaint in these days of slick, graphics-laden Web sites, just the fact that Irish readers living or working away from home can get same-day Irish home news should be a major attraction. In the future, it will make sense to deliver a multi-media edition in addition to text -- but the reasoning behind offering a digital text-only edition will not disappear for many, many years.

To inquire about subscribing to the Irish Times email edition, send an email message to

The email publisher

Certainly email has its limits as a publishing tool, the primary one being the inability to seamlessly integrate graphics into email-delivered publications. Some companies are working on melding Web publishing with "digital home delivery," such that a publication's Web site can be "delivered" as daily updates in HTML format. The subscriber reads the delivered HTML documents on her Web browser without having to connect to the Internet or wait for graphics files to be downloaded, for example. Other schemes allow delivery of electronic publications in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.

But don't dismiss simple email, says Andrew Currie, president of Boulder, Colorado-based Cyberspace Development Inc., which is developing new industrial-strength email publishing tools. Email is the most widely used, standardized, stable communication medium on the Internet, forming a ready-to-use publishing medium that few commercial newspaper publishers are using.

Think of email as complementary to the Web. "Web sites are finding people visit but never return," he says. "There are too many interesting sites to remember, and too little time to visit them on a regular basis." Because email doesn't rely on the consumer remembering to visit, but rather shows up the desktop, publishers are well advised to use email lists to complement Web servers, Currie says. This might mean regular email "teasers" about what's new on the Web site, a "top story of the day" emailed to registered Web users, or surcharged email editions featuring condensed versions of the print product or Web site (as are being introduced by the Irish Times and Christian Science Monitor).

If you think about your own use of the Internet, email is likely the No. 1 way you interact online. Remember that fact when planning your publication's overall Internet strategy.

Contacts: Joe Breen,
Andrew Currie,

Movin' On

Another major newspaper's new media chief has moved to Microsoft. Mike Gordon, director of the Interactive Studio at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, begins a new job with Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, in April. Gordon can't talk yet about his role at the software giant. He joins Dan Fisher, who left his post as online editor at the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago and headed for Redmond.

San Diego SPJ seeks Web judges

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is sponsoring its first World Wide Web news contest, as part of its annual writing contest, and is looking for three or four judges. You should be familiar with the issues and practices of Web publishing. If interested, contact chapter president Susan Gembrowski at

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