With little fanfare, the Boston Globe has unveiled a “preview” edition of GlobeReader, an attempt to produce an online newspaper that offers a better experience than the Web version. GlobeReader is slick and highly readable. Save for subtle differences in the fonts that are used, it looks exactly like Times Reader 2.0, which the New York Times unveiled last month. Both are built on the Adobe Air platform, which allows developers to build applications outside the context of the Web.
Unlike Times Reader, which you can subscribe to as a standalone product for $14.95 a month, GlobeReader is free but available only to print subscribers. You do not, however, have to be a seven-day subscriber — a Thursday-through-Sunday or Sunday-only subscription is sufficient.
That’s probably a smart move. Knowledgeable people have told me that more than half of the Globe’s advertising revenue comes from the Sunday paper. Still, Globe spokesman Bob Powers says that could change.
As for what we can expect once GlobeReader has moved beyond the “preview” stage, Powers writes:
We’ve chosen the term preview edition to reflect that GlobeReader is a brand new product for us, and to a large degree the industry, which we will continually improve based upon reader feedback. We want to make sure the customers help shape future editions. We are also opening GlobeReader Preview Edition only to subscribers because we do want to hear from our most loyal readers.
We also expect to add features such as crosswords, ‘news in video’, a ‘latest news’ update, and ’email to a friend’ in the upcoming weeks/months, as they become available.
[F]or formatting reasons we are not including features such as comics, TV grids, weather, and sports box scores. We will look to add these features to a large degree based on reader’s priorities.
A friend who works at the Globe told me recently that GlobeReader is actually a bigger technical challenge than Times Reader because of some peculiarities in the way the Globe is assembled. So I’d give it some settling-down time.
So what’s the business strategy? It seems to me that it’s a hedge against people canceling home delivery of the Globe altogether, especially now that prices have gone up quite a bit. The Globe benefits if people at least hold on to Sunday delivery; it may also benefit from not having to pay the printing and distribution costs of the considerably less lucrative Monday-through-Saturday editions.
It’s an interesting strategy and, combined with other delivery platforms, such as the $9.99-a-month Kindle edition, may help chart a path out of the current mess in which the newspaper business finds itself. Such projects are not going to be nearly enough, but they could help.