I got this very amusing email from the San Jose Mercury News today, promoting their new “e-Edition” (demo here) — an online version of their “dead tree” newspaper — complete with paper layout, photos, advertisements, frozen as they were in the print edition. I seriously wonder how a paper — which lives in the ultra-competitive Silicon Valley market — believes it can actually get subscribers to pay $15 for a five week subscription to this product? Essentially, their “e-Edition” is a horribly crippled version of their (much more functional) free web site. Instead, the “e-Edition” takes all of the horrible parts of paper (i.e., jumps after the first paragraph of every story, no hyperlinks, etc.) and crams them into a web browser.
Today, we are announcing the launch of the Mercury News e-Edition. The e-Edition is not just a website. It’s every story, picture, and ad exactly as it appears on every page. And, you’ll be able to do things you can’t do with the print edition, such as:
• Get Silicon Valley news by viewing our four daily editions
• View our free 30-day archive to view news you’ve missed
• Get print content NOT available on MercuryNews.com
• Search the Mercury News with advanced search tools
• Enlarge the type for easier reading
The essential problem with this product is it takes lots of the design elements from paper — which are essentially user interface elements (UI) for a piece of paper — and just slams that into the web, without regard to WHY those exist. For example, the whole idea of jumps (which in newspapers lead you to other pages where a story continues, ie. “see page 2A”) is a fundamental limitation due to wanting to place as many top stories onto the front page of the paper so people will pick up and read the paper. That’s why newspapers often print two different editions of the front page — one for home readers, and one specifically designed to put all the important stories above the fold in news racks. The “e-Edition” in the Mercury News even preserves those “jumps” in the text when you click on a story, requiring you to click (yet again) to get to the rest of the story.
Other navigational nightmares include preserving the inside/outside stories in the paper — the way that newspapers typically bury stories within inner pages if they can’t justify the space on the front page. So you have to browse the entire paper to pick up the one or two articles in the middle you might find interesting. On the web, it’s typically shown as a side story or in a list of headlines of inside stories — which is easier to skim.
I could see a third-rate, rural paper doing an announcement for something like this, but the San Jose Mercury News?