No accident that digital editions succeed as readers opt for text

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Crafted, great-looking newspaper pages are enjoying a renaissance... as digital editions.

That's the experience of Herald Sun head of digital Nathaniel Bane, who says an extension of the movement away from rich digital news formats to simpler content consumption has been a rise in engagement with digital editions of the printed newspaper.

In an INMA post, he says the Melbourne, Australia, publisher is experiencing a spike in the number of downloads of its digital print edition. "We replaced our interactive tablet app with a simpler news format plus a much better digital edition, and engagement has gone through the roof," he says.

Bane says the product team and digital edition provider worked tirelessly at improving the overall quality of the experience - providing the digital edition with "bells and whistles on top of everything - conversion of text to audio, Google Translate, a downloadable back catalogue".

But he argues that the reason for its growing popularity may be a rapid march toward simpler consumption habits, "whether that's text on a phone, audio for my train trip home, a great photograph I can share, or scanning and reading a newspaper just as it has been printed.

"Newspapers don't look as they do by accident. They are crafted, designed to be easily read, and look darn good on a screen," he says.

"Faster downloading and smaller file sizes also mean it can be super quick to get a full copy of the newspaper - with everything in it - on your device. Bigger screens mean it's also much easier to read on the move. This is a good thing for publishers. It's a strong subscription offering. And all of the ads, including classifieds, are reaching a whole new audience - a big win for advertisers."

Bane says traditional newsrooms had been in a fluster over all the possibilities presented by journalism that moved - multi-media projects such as the New York Times' Snow Fall , and interactive tablet apps delivered stories with lots of clickable parts. But he says that while the digital journalism was stunning to look at, readers didn't engage in a way that justified the time invested.

Another factor has been smartphone themselves, which meant that readers either didn't have the technology or the time to tap on "all these moving bits and chapters and pop-up screens on a small device. They wanted their content in a simple and digestible format".

Research in the March edition of Wired magazine - which says 71 per cent of readers globally wanted to read news in a mostly text format - supports the reassessment of the part multimedia should play in content offerings.

He says the view at the Herald Sun has become that multimedia needs to be simple, and must complement a story. "We also need to pick a format - whether it is text, photography, video, or audio - do it once, and do it well.

"Interactives - or richly built article pages with multiple moving elements - simply drive less engagement and traffic than a standard article page," he says.

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