By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Herald is still waiting for digital deliverance

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Having devoted a considerable number of pixels recently to writing about digital versions of the Boston Globe (here and here), I figured it was time to check in on the city’s second daily, the Boston Herald.

The good news, which you probably already know, is that the Herald has a vibrant, fast-loading free website that’s clearly differentiated from the print edition. But is there some way of paying for electronic delivery of the full Herald, as there is with the Globe through GlobeReader?

The short answer is yes, but no. The Herald does have an “Electronic Edition” (also known as the “Smart Edition”) that costs $11 every four weeks for seven-day access — $10 if you renew automatically. That’s not a bad deal, as it would cost a bit more than $17 every four weeks for print delivery, not counting tip. But though it would be overly harsh to call the Electronic Edition unusable, it’s certainly not good enough to entice me away from the Herald’s website.

Simply put, the e-edition is a full PDF of the paper with a few add-ons. You can make a page larger and try to read it that way. You can click on a story, and the software will attempt to render a text version — not bad when it works, but it doesn’t always capture the full story. If you diligently page through the entire digital paper, you’re likely to run across a few items that you’d miss if you just scanned the website. But it’s not a satisfying experience.

You can also click to have a story read to you out loud. It’s good for a laugh, but that’s all.

The Electronic Edition offers several other options as well. You can read the paper on your mobile device or an e-reader, save it for offline reading using a program called PressReader, or add an RSS feed to your aggregator. But without going into excruciating detail, let me just say that I’ve given all of those options a try (I’m still attempting to get the paper to download to the BlackBerry version of PressReader) and found that they still fell short of simply reading the Herald on the Web — or in print.

The problem is that reading online is simply a different experience from reading in print. The Herald website respects that difference; the Electronic Edition is the complete opposite, as it represents a kludgy attempt to shoehorn the print edition onto your computer screen. (I do not know whether the e-edition is different from the Herald’s NewsStand edition, another PDF delivery service. It does look like NewsStand costs a bit more.)

When the Globe announced last week that it would move some of its online content behind a pay wall next year, Herald publisher Pat Purcell acknowledged that he’s considering his options as well. I hope one of those options will be to drop the electronic edition and embrace a first-rate digital-delivery system similar to GlobeReader.

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  1. tobe berkovitz

    For us knuckle-draggers who read the Herald off of our computer, the experience is terrible. The teaser style of each story is like a bad TV newscast from the 1990s. Stay tuned? Not in the digital era. I skip tons of stories because the format annoys me. The landing page layout is also a mess. Not intuitive or user friendly. Get with folks. It’s a jungle out there.

  2. Laurence Kranich

    The Smart Edition is a one-paper version of PressDisplay. I like it better than newspaper websites when I want to read the whole paper, because it presents the original graphics. You can see at a glance if a story is wire copy filler or a major feature. You can’t always get that from Globe Reader and as a result it takes a lot longer to page through every Globe Reader story. I’ve been reading the Herald on PressDisplay for years and it is much quicker and more satisfying than trying to read the whole paper on their website. Plus, it is almost half the price of home delivery.

    PressDisplay’s iPad app is the best of all worlds. The page frame is much like a newspaper, and using the two finger swipe it’s easy to expand articles and read them in the original format. You might have to subscribe through PressDisplay instead of the Herald’s Smart Edition to get this, but the price is the same.

    When the PressReader text reader works you are practically duplicating the Globe Reader experience, except for some reason the system mangles the Herald’s text more than most papers.

    The NewsStand version of the Herald is much worse. It uses an outdated Windows-only reader and it’s limited to a PDF version of each page. If you hate the Globe’s NewsStand edition which uses their multiplatform iBrowse version, you will loathe the Herald’s version.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: Now, the iPad version of the Herald might well be worth checking out. First: Get an iPad.

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