True 'Convergence'

For several years, we’ve been advocating that ‘convergence’ isn’t media companies combining their print and broadcast newsrooms — that’s multimedia, not convergence.

True convergence is the convergence of print and of online into a single product. Not multiple products (newsprint, Web, broadcast, etc.), but a single product output.

This is happening. The two vector lines of convergence respectively began in 1993 and 1996.

In 1993, the Internet was opened from public and commercial use. That effectively ended the era of proprietary online services (CompuServe, Prodigy, GEnie, Delphi, and Interchange, although AOL still very popularly lingers) and so allowed any publisher directly to serve consumers without any middlemen. Since then, almost every major newspaper, magazines, and broadcaster has begun publishing Web sites.

Meanwhile in 1996, Scitex of Israel, a company that was the publishing industry’s major source of pre-press imaging technologies, spun off a subsidiary that let publishers utilize their publications’ pre-press images for other purposes. That subsidiary became PressPoint of New York City, whose technologies allowed newspapers to transmit their publications’ digital images to remote printing facilities around the world. PressPoint became a private company in 1998, lead by former New York Times Company President Lance Primus and venture funded by Warburg, Pincus. By 2000, it was delivering digital images of 55 major newspapers worldwide to printing facilities worldwide. Attracted to that market, a competitor, NewspaperDirect, also of New York City, was formed and began serving even more newspapers. Although Warburg, Pincus closed PressPoint during the Internet bust of 2000, NewspaperDirect continues to operate and now delivers same-day editions of 180 major newspapers into 66 countries worldwide.

However, PressPoint and NewspaperDirect didn’t deliver those editions directly to consumers; local newsstands, hotels, resorts, and corporations did that. Since 2000, several new companies have been formed to deliver these digital editions that last step. NewspaperDirect also is moving in direction. The first of the new companies was SatelliteNewspapers (former PEPC PressPoint) of The Hague, which has invented and is deploying newspaper vending machines that can print same-day editions of 130 newspapers on-demand. Another company is of Austin, which delivers digital editions of 80 newspapers online. Another company is Olive Software of Denver, originally a digital archiving company, that now also provides newspapers with software that presents a multimedia digital edition online in lieu of a Web site.

Web sites and digital editions each many complementary advantages & disadvantages. Web sites offer hyperlinks, multimedia, and unlimited content space but without the graphical layout capabilities and convenience of paper and without the economic ability to sell advertising space as a valuable scarcity. Digital editions offer superior graphical layout capabilities, scarce (and therefore valuable) ad sales space, but didn’t have capabilities for multimedia and hyperlinks and suffered weighty files sizes.

However, these two electronic modes of publishing content are beginning to converge. Most digital editions are built using Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Files (PDF) and the last two versions of Acrobat allow hyperlinking and embedded multimedia. Olive Software in particular has pioneered these capabilities in digital editions that integrate Web site content.

Much development still needs to be done with digital editions:

  • Reducing digital edition PDF file sizes (most publishers still distribute 300 dpi digital editions when they should be lowering that resolution and increasing the bi-cubic compression in their files.
  • Digital editions need to utilize more the tagged file formatting capabilities in Acrobat, which would allow digital editions layouts to reflow to fit whatever device screen size a consumer uses.
  • Print publishers need to format their printed and digital editions in ‘tabloid’, rather than ‘broadsheet’ layout (newspaper designer Mario Garcia has predicted they will).
  • And wireless content delivery and electronic paper technologies need to advance into commercial stages. These are agenda for the second half of this decade and will occur.

    Many Web site developers disparage digital editions as just glorified screenshots of print newspapers. Some feel threatened that publishers are beginning to spend money developing digital editions, monies those developers think should be spend on further development of the Web sites. During the past decade, however, Web editions of newspapers have markedly failed to replace and succeed printed editions, to profit, or to attract frequent readership. Publishers are beginning to look for viable electronic publishing alternatives. Web site developers fail to realize that their own skills are vital towards launching truly multimedia digital editions and that they should see digital editions as simply a traditional graphical overlay of their own work, not as a threat. They should become involved in digital edition development, taking over that work and integrating it with their own Web work.

    By 2010, newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters (will that term become redundant?) will be able to publish a single digital edition that can be used on the Web, in print, and one portable devices and e-paper, and that will feature the advantages of both Web sites and newsprint. This convergence has already begun.

    By the way, the latest newspapers to begin testing digital editions are The Guardian and The Observer in London.