The New Yorker digital edition is already a disappointment

I spent two hours yesterday waiting in line, unsuccessfully, for tickets to the New Yorker Festival event with Haruki Murakami. The tickets sold out, though they lasted longer than I had anticipated. A walking tour with Calvin Trillin and an event with Stephen Colbert were the first to sell out. You can even see me standing in line on the New Yorker’s current homepage above.

Today I stood in the line in the same place for about 50 minutes to get books signed by Murakami, whose wife stamped them after he signed them. Of interest was a kiosk set up to preview the New Yorker’s digital edition, which the magazine expects to launch in one month. They’re currently offering four free issues and a free digital subscription for print subscribers through the end of their current subscription term. It sounded like they still haven’t settled on a pricing model for the digital edition. Or, if they have, the reps at the Festival headquarters weren’t aware of it. The magazine plans to make each week’s issue available digitally at 12:01 am on Monday morning and to provide digital access to their archive.

Digital issues don’t appear to be downloadable, though the New Yorker rep said that users would be able to print from the magazine using the digital edition. The magazine is forcing users to use an online, web-based viewer from Realview Technologies. Unfortunately, that means no PDFs and no offline access. Moreover, the printing functionality seems to be severely limited and only lets users print one page at a time. It would be nice if I could just print the entire magazine on Monday morning, but it would seem essential that users would be able to at least print out an article or two for later reading.

One of the great advantages of the magazine is that it’s portable. Once I get my copy of the New Yorker in the mail, I can read it in class, I can read it in bed, I can read it in a cab or on a plane. I can even read it in the subway when I have no reception on my BlackBerry. I don’t even need my computer or an Internet connection to read it. Yes, I also happen to hate reading on computer screens and even print out op-ed articles from the Times out of my preference for paper over pixels. By restricting both printing and offline access, the digital edition becomes far less useful than the print magazine or its website. Given a chance to expand its reader base and further engage existing readers of the New Yorker, it appears the magazine has failed with its digital edition to do any more than create a niche product with infinitesimal appeal. I really wanted to like the digital edition, but I don’t see how it, in any way, improves on the magazine.

I suppose that’s no surprise, though, given the New Yorker’s previous experience with digital content. Its website was absolutely anemic for years and years, and it prevented all but the savviest users from copying the New Yorker Archive DVDs to their hard drives, which created a slow product. Because the New Yorker has such great content, such a great product, I feel it has a responsibility to put user experience above its fears of digitization. Its digital edition offers another chance to get that right. Let’s hope it does so before next month’s launch.

On another New Yorker note, their Festival blog is excellent.

Update: I’ve now had a chance to try the launched digital edition. 

5 Comments

  1. WizardBoy

    It sounds as if the digital edition uses the same technology that they use for their “complete New Yorker” series — printing one page at a time, which also takes forever for each page. The “complete New Yorker” is also a big disappointment — using its on proprietary options for movement within, very “clunky” if you ask me. Its only benefit is that it is “complete” — but it seems to have been developed by someone who wanted to make it as difficult as possible to print, copy, or maneuver within its pages.

  2. TalkTNY

    If the reader software is the same as The Complete New Yorker, you can print a range of pages at a time, an entire issue if you desire. To print as pdf files, install a virtual printer that saves pages as pdf files.

  3. The New Yorker digital edition in the wild still disappoints | The litter in littérateur.

    […] having posted previously that the New Yorker digital edition would be a letdown based on my experience at the New Yorker […]

  4. Lisa Wallerstein

    It’s mid-November and I gave up trying to print from it this morning – without taking screen shots, that is, and it’s easier to scan. (What gray button??) But I’m about to try a search, which is the only real reason to have it digitized, and for the very reason you described: its portability. Wish me luck!

  5. Jonathan Barcliff

    Very informing post. If you wish to listen to BBC Radio on the iPhone – I strongly recommend BBC Streams – it is easily the quickest and most reliable way to listen to BBC Radio on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and it’s free at BBCStreams.com.

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