- Publishing a national newspaper digitally is very difficult
- Rushing to digital can cause more problems than it solves
- Culture changes are likely critical for a successful digital transition
Washington Post Digital
I love the Washington Post. I have for years been a print subscriber, and recently dropped print in favor of digital. Now that I’ve moved to southern MD, it was just too difficult to manage stopping and starting the DC delivery. And besides, I’m very comfortable with digital media and in fact prefer digital to print newspapers.
I did the same with the Wall Street Journal when it offered the digital edition. The WSJ never disappointed. As complex as the publication is, its web and digital editions manage to serve up all the information I want, as well as making me aware of things I didn’t know I would like.
Unfortunately, the Post has not done well at all so far.
It appears that the Post selected one vendor to provide a “print” version digitally, and another to display certain features like crosswords and comics. It is also obvious that this cobbled-together partnership of vendors doesn’t work well (or even reliably), while missing key capabilities that any digital WSJ user could show are critical. Search is one such example. Usability testing is another. A knowledgeable and responsive HELP desk is yet another. Here is a sampling of shortcomings.
Comics and Crosswords
Although I love the Post news and opinion sections (a reasonable balance of right and left, given that it is the “Washington” Post), I admit it: I love the crossword puzzles and the comics. Both disappoint.
The crossword feature is absolutely great when it works. You can choose from today’s or previous crossword puzzles; you can race against the clock, save your work to resume later, and can work as a regular or master. When it works. I’ve had several occasions when it simply didn’t work. I contacted the Post’s HELP desk (and the vendor’s HELP desk). The latter never acknowledged my request; the former didn’t seem to understand the issue and recommended doing weird things that –among other things—would delete all my “My Post” entries.
Comics have a Procrustean frame for each comic entry, but you cannot enlarge what you see. That’s usually ok for the daily comics, but when you see multi-row or vertically-oriented comics in the Sunday edition, reading the comics is like looking at them through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.
The Post Newspaper Itself
At first, the idea of a digital print edition (eReplica is the term the Post uses) is great, especially when you can click on an article and then get to a more easily readable and navigable version (regular digital version). This generally works well. However, it usually takes me a couple of days to read the large Sunday edition. Come Monday, I downloaded the Monday edition and poof: the Sunday edition was gone. Usually searching the regular digital edition lets you find articles that were printed a day or two ago. I could see no way to find the “Outlook” Sunday section. You can guess what happened when I searched for “Outlook.” I got thousands of entries, none of which were what I wanted.
Once again I submitted a request to the Post HELP desk asking how I could view previous digital editions (as I can in the WSJ). I got a typically friendly form email response with a ticket number. That was two days ago, and I’ve received no response. I expect I’ll get a response, but I’m not expecting it will answer the question.
Print versus Digital Culture
I applaud the Post’s venture into Digital, although it is clear the print mentality so permeates the culture that they haven’t figured out how to think digitally. I’m sure that everyone at the Post has an Amazon account and notices just how easy it is to use. That print mentality though is apparently so ingrained that they haven’t considered applying observations at Amazon (or the WSJ) to the Post Digital offering.
Perhaps Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Post will fix these problems in time before his patience in this new Washington Post venture runs out. He understands well the need for digital expertise, usability, and continuous improvement. He has his work cut out for him though, and I wish him (and the Post) well. I’ll continue to subscribe in spite of the many problems with search etc., at least until my patience runs out.