Mairi Clark finds out why the European has chosen to take an unusual
route into the electronic market
Over the last year or so, an immutable wisdom has developed about the
correct way to launch a newspaper electronically. At the centre of this
wisdom - surrounded by jargon such as ‘searchable archives’ and
‘personalised content’ - is the delivery system: electronic newspapers
exist on the Internet. Don’t they?
Well, the FT, the Telegraph and the Times do. But, last month, the
European flew in the face of this conventional wisdom and took the
unusual step of using the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) to
transmit its newspaper.
Is this a half-way house? Cynics might be forgiven for thinking so -
after all, Charles Garside, the editor of the European, once called into
question the whole rationale behind electronic newspapers, saying:
‘Newspapers offer a forum for debate and analysis which cannot be
provided by new computer services or by TV and radio.’ Papers, he added,
are more user-friendly than computers.
Garside is adamant that his views have not changed, but he offers sound
reasons for setting up the European on ISDN. First and foremost, the
idea is to offer a better service to its overseas readership, without
opting automatically for the Internet.
‘We did look at creating a Website, but there was too much information
for it to be feasible,’ Garside explains. ‘The electronic version is
exactly the same as the hard copy. The only difference is that our
readers get the electronic version at least two days before the hard
copy, which is important to them. Remember, two thirds of the European’s
readership is not in the UK.’
The electronic paper works by transmitting the finished paper to the
subscriber via the ISDN links, which virtually every major company in
Europe has access to.
The images are sent from the European’s offices in Gray’s Inn Road, and
the subscriber receives the copy either directly to his or her computer,
or on to a server housed in the same building, which can then pass the
copy along to the subscriber.
ISDN is a form of telephone line, but one which can carry much more
information than the average copper wire. An ISDN line costs the same as
a phone line to run, but connection costs are much greater, particularly
in Britain, and this has hindered its growth here. In the rest of
Europe, connection costs are relatively cheap and in the US negligible.
When the subscriber opens up the electronic European, he or she is
greeted with a digital image of the paper itself. Accompanying each
story is a list of icons - a radio, the word ‘video’, an info sign and
an update symbol, offering either a radio or TV newspiece about the
story, or an updated version of the printed story.
Ads are embellished in the same way - giving access to the client’s
radio or TV ads in real time, as well as extra information about the
product on offer.
The European has a deal with Independent Television News allowing it to
run clips of ITN news items alongside stories.
For the first six months, any advertiser that takes out a display ad in
the European will be offered the chance to have its TV ad shown on the
Carlsberg has already shown confidence in the initiative by buying top
and tail ads throughout the European’s three-week coverage of the Euro
96 football championships and the courier service, UPS, will take the
same placements for the Olympic Games.
Mike Moore, the advertising director at the European, admits that
advertisers were a little sceptical at first: ‘When we initially told
them about the electronic newspaper, they were confused about why we
weren’t going on the Internet. Once we explained, they were as excited
as we were.’