Digiditions Flavour Of The Month For Cost-Conscious, Retrograde Regionals

Larger, national publishers may be broadly aligned on digital monetisation strategy (one standout excepted) – but, out in the regions, where local groups sometimes enjoy a good degree of strategic freedom, smaller outfits’ plans occasionally look, well, a bit Jackson Pollock
— Tindle’s weekly Congleton Chronicle of Cheshire, which, as we reported, started offering a £25-a-year PDF edition last year, is now doing an iPhone app that gives readers the first seven pages for free but which requires a £2.39-a-month in-app payment for the remainder. Announcement.
— Newsquest’s Bolton News and Lancashire Telegraph dailies are offering their desktop page-turning editions at a promotional price that’s just a quarter of the printed edition, from the equivalent of £0.10 a day up to £31.20 a year. Via HTFP.
— Northern Media Group’s The Irish News scrapped its website in November in favour of just available online a digital edition, costing up to £150 a year. Its editor says this “improvement” offers the “full experience of reading The Irish News in print”. Via @psmith.
Congleton’s paper uses mobile software from Exact Editions, which also powers its desktop e-edition and for titles like The Spectator and MusicWeek, while Bolton and Lancashire use PageSuite.
Digital editions may usable, big businesses when newspaper-like tablets or electronic paper become realities, and they may already appeal to the small number of diasporic readers who long to hold their local paper – but they’re no kind of way to present news on today’s web, and much less a strategy for publishing to mobiles, whose screens are clearly ill-equipped for reading pages that are many times larger (that’s why apps exist, to invite navigation by menu).
Indeed, from a usability – though not necessarily a commercial – standpoint, it’s barely an online strategy at all – just a lazy way of repurposing the core printed product for aiming at an incremental audience in an already small market.
At the same time, however until we arrive in that wonderful e-reader future which many publishers seem to crave, it’s also a great way to cut digital expenditure in the downturn while also maintaining the illusion of a real web presence (in fairness to Bolton and Lancashire, they publishes news on their sites as it happens).
The Irish News is so pleased with its digidition, it’s trying to worry counterpart papers in to renting its FSI platform on a white-label basis. The sales pitch from its site:-

If your (sic) paying for an expensive web site that is relying on advertising for income – STOP. For as little as £200 per month you could be making money by selling copies of your paper online. Requires no resources at the publisher’s site other than the ability to FTP the completed PDF files to our server.”

Is that the sum total of 15 years’ innovation in online news publication?
“Other Newspaper or Magazines (sic) have shown such an interest that we are now offering this set-up to a few publishers”, The Irish News says. But digital magazine editions is a market John Menzies, with its scale, exited last year because downloads weren’t proving popular. Maybe there’s a message there?
Our gathering age of austerity may be about doing more with less – but, with a growing number falling back to make a new medium look like an old one – at what point do we observe publishers having given up on HTML entirely?