The Suburban is very proudly showing off a virtual version of its printed paper online (see this week’s edition here). It’s done through My Virtual Paper, an outfit which takes laid-out pages and converts them into PDF-like documents for viewing online. A similar outfit is NewspaperDirect’s PressDisplay PressReader OtherWordsWithoutSpacesInBetween, which the Canwest chain uses, along with the Toronto Star, La Presse, the Globe and Mail, Quebecor’s 24 Hours chain and many smaller newspapers.
The advantage with the Suburban is that since the physical paper is free, the electronic version is also free. So you can save some paper and just look at the ads online.
As much as these companies do their best to go beyond just showing images of pages online, with features such as automated article reading, article bookmarking, comments, search engine optimization and so on, it’s still largely about adapting a format to fit another medium, and the disadvantages show clearly. It’s awkward to navigate, you have to deal with articles turning from one page to another, and you often have to scroll horizontally and vertically to read articles. Plus I’ve never been able to print a page properly from the system.
But it’s cheap to do, which is why newspapers use it. And because so much effort is spent making the printed product look good (dozens of copy editors spending hours writing headlines, laying out pages and choosing photos) and so little effort is spent making the website elegant (minimum-wage data entry clerks copying and pasting from the printed edition as fast as they can), some people (like myself) prefer to see the layout in its original paper form.
You’ll also notice that it offers the various zoned editions (west island, west end, different west end and east end)
But MyVirtualPaper does some things that really annoy me just to make it seem more paper-like and impress 60-year-old executives who don’t understand the Internet and would never use the product anyway:
- One side of each page has a gradient on it, to simulate the curve that’s found around the fold
- Turning the page involves a page-turning animation and a corresponding sound effect, both of which are annoying and unnecessary
- The system feels the need to reinvent how navigation works, including a new pointer which for some reason runs at a different speed than my pointer would normally run at
- Arrow keys can’t be used to move around within a page
It’s useful enough to check out when you want to find something. But as a weekly reference, you’ll quickly find it too annoying to deal with and go back to the physical paper.