A New Way to Read the Morning Paper

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2001

One of Japan's largest newspapers is trying an interesting online publishing experiment.

by Kyoko Fujimoto

sankei shimbunTHE SANKEI SHIMBUN, the fifth-largest newspaper in Japan, is going on the Web. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's not a typical online version of the news that readers will see. It's the whole paper, laid out online exactly as it is in print: the current edition, every day, with all the ads and articles -- and with hyperlinks.

Dubbed "Newsvue," the online system is based on a viewer developed in cooperation with Tokyo-based software house Sapience (www.sp3.com). The Acrobat--like viewer lets readers magnify to 64 times and specify exactly the part they want to magnify or print. Any area can be automatically fitted to A4-size paper for printing. A hyperlinking feature lets readers jump to related stories, advertisers' home pages, or anywhere online.

The publisher is offering online versions of the morning and evening editions of The Sankei Shimbun, as well as the business tabloid Yukan Fuji. Only users of certain high-speed ISPs -- At Home Japan, All Inc., and usen Corp. -- can get the software and access the online version. Why? "Guess," said the company at a recent press conference. If we're guessing correctly, the reason is newspaper distributors. While the company refused to go into details, we know that Japan has a layered, complex newspaper distribution system, with hundreds of distributors for any given area. It's likely that in the areas that can't get the online version, there's a physical distributor who strongly opposes the concept, or who Sankei doesn't want to upset for one reason or another. In any case, it's notable that geographic distribution of an online publication is being controlled through the select use of ISPs.

The company hasn't indicated how it will price the online version, but hinted it would be cheaper than the printed paper. It will be free during a trial period (which started in May), but Sankei might begin charging afterwards (probably in August), either by the article, by the page view, monthly, or something else. Equally unclear is the payment mechanism. (See "Idees Forte" for one idea on this.) Interestingly, the online version will be readable for only two days after posting, for copyright reasons. This could prompt readers to check the news more frequently for fear of missing something. Back issues on CD-ROMs are a possibility.

If the online version takes off, will the paper version ever be phased out? "No," said Tsuyoshi Yamamoto of the paper's digital media division and board member of The Sankei Shimbun company. "This is just another service we will provide, in addition to the paper. The paper version remains the primary product."

Most content on the Web is free, of course, and few publishers have figured out how to profit online. Whether Sankei can work out the issue with Newsvue will be interesting to watch.

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