July 20, 2010, 7:47 AM — Yesterday afternoon I got an email from Barnes & Noble announcing that the New York Times is now available on the B&N Reader for iPad. They advertise that this digital paper is "Organized just like the print edition" which had me imagining a mini-newspaper on the iPad. I couldn't resist the 14-day free trial so I signed up.
In my case, I did the actual sign up on the B&N website on my PC, and a few minutes later today's Times popped up in the B&N Reader on the iPad (which I already had installed). I didn't have to request it; it just downloaded automatically, which is nice. They promise an automatic download every morning, but they don't say when. For most of us there's a big difference between a 7 am download (something we can read over our morning coffee) and a 9 am download (when we're already at the office). This morning when I opened the app and clicked on The New York Times (they gather issues under one icon in your library), rather than the paper from the 20th having been automatically downloaded, I had an option to download it manually. When I tried to do so I got a brief "Technical Difficulties" pop-up. Not an encouraging sign. I'm hoping that when things are working properly I'll find the paper waiting for me.
The browsing experience, it turns out, doesn't look anything like a newspaper, which is probably a good thing (see screenshots below). Instead there's a pop up menu that takes you to a particular section, and from there a blog-like listing of the day's stories. Clicking any headline takes you to full text. There's a smattering of color photos here and there, but generally what you're getting is a nice clean dump of the paper's text, with no ads to clutter the experience. While it's a little daunting to get a 400 page document as part of a daily paper, the fact is you can fly through pages and not end up with ink stains on your fingertips. And you can easily bookmark any page for more careful reading later. You can also search the paper for any term. Searching on "oil spill" took me right to a front page article even though I was deep into the international section when I searched.
On the other hand, it still isn't the same experience as leafing through a physical paper, and there's no way to pass sections back and forth over the breakfast table with your significant other. (Sharing content within a household is the Achille's Heel of digital content on personal devices, in my opinion.)
Bottom line, it seems like a solid product (assuming I don't see "Technical Difficulties" regularly); I'll be really interested to see how the Sunday edition looks.
But then there's the cost, which is $20/month. While that sounds outrageous, to be fair having the ad-packed print edition delivered (once the special offers run out) would cost me $64.13/month ($14.80/week), so the digital version is a considerable savings over print. But $20/month still feels high to me, particularly when I can turn to my Android phone and use the excellent NY Times application there to get a huge amount of news and video content from the Times for free. If you don't have access to an Android device, don't think this app is similar to the Times Editor's Choice app available on the iPad; it isn't. The NY Times Android app contains a ton of content broken up into very granular sections making it very easy to navigate. Of course, most iPad users probably don't have access to an Android device so the point is moot for many. And, for now at least, reading the Android version is confined to a tiny phone screen. The actual reading experience on the iPad is much more enjoyable (for those of us with old eyes, at least).
If $20/month is too rich for your blood, you can purchase a single issue of the Times for $.99 (at least for a mid-week issue). In the long run that's probably the option I'd take; I'd probably buy single issues on Saturday and Sunday. I'm really interested to see what the Sunday Times looks like on the iPad. Getting a physical edition has proven problematic in my neck of the woods and I've been looking for a viable alternative. Perhaps the B&N Reader for iPad version will be just the ticket. I'll let you know next Monday.