INTERACTIVE: CASE STUDY/THE EUROPEAN; Advertisers react cautiously as the European opts for ISDN over the Net

Mairi Clark finds out why the European has chosen to take an unusual route into the electronic market

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

electronic version.

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.’