Dutch NRC misses most important news in eBook edition

Today I finally could use my iLiad again after the screen was repaired (under warranty, thanks iRex Technologies!). I looked forward to reading all the details about what happened on the financial markets over the weekend, and about the nationalization of Fortis Bank (one of the biggest banks in Belgium and the Netherlands) in particular.

I downloaded the paper around 9 PM (the earliest time the paper can be downloaded in China) and was surprised to see a half empty front page. No problem I thought, I just go to the index and find the articles there. But no, there was one link to the Fortis article, but that did not work. I scrolled manually through all 106 pages, but there were no articles about the most important news (at least for Holland) that happened during the weekend.

It happens more often that articles are unreadable because editors do not check the eBook edition as well as the paper version, but I did not notice before that the most important news is missing. Is there an editor in charge of the iLiad version? I pay hundreds of Euros per year for this paper and I expect that at least someone checks what the paper sends out to its customers. NRC, do something about this!

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  1. On behalve of NRC: we are very aware of problems concerning this ePaper edition. Today’s failures learned us how fragile the current publication flow is for other systemchanges in our editorial chain.
    NRC will make a compensation offer for the ePaper customers anytime soon.

    Edwin Schravesande,
    NRC New Media Team

  2. I am one of the 500 or so NRC readers who bought an iLiad in combination with subscription to the ePaper in the first week that this was available (about 8 months ago). I am very disappointed.

    The NRC advertises that the ePaper is easily available via wifi everywhere in the world at any time you want. This is more than slightly exaggerated. It took me a month and the extra costs of a router to be able to download the ePaper. Initially, the iLiad refused to connect both to my wifi network at home and to the network at work. Neither the NRC nor iRex (the manufacturer of the iLiad) were of any help in solving the problem. It turned out that in order to download the ePaper, the iLiad requires a direct connection with a router and refuses to connect to the ‘ad-hoc’ networks that I had set up with my computer and which I used for many years without any problems to connect Windows, Mac and Linux computers. The iLiad does not connect to hotspots that require a login via a browser either, nor to the secure networks in use by most companies and universities.

    The ePaper itself is a half-baked product, that has been put on the market without sufficient preparation and testing. The ePaper is produced by extracting text from a pdf of the paper edition more or less OCR like. The results are what you can expect from such a process. Many articles are unreadable, they look as if they are blended with a mixer. Columns with short articles appear as one paragraph without any typography. Articles end half way and continue 50 pages later. Links do not work. The front page of the weekend edition is often absent. Regularly there is a whole supplement lacking. The media pages are an unreadable mess. And so on, and so on.

    The NRC Handelsblad runs a dedicated forum which is open to ePaper subscribers only. Requests to open it (read only) for candidate subscribers were turned down. The NRC ignored this users forum for more than 2 months. After actions of the users, NRC announced, at May 15th, a biweekly update about their progress in improving the ePaper and promised to engaged more actively in the forum.

    One staff member did so for two weeks. He emphasized that NRC is working hard to solve the problems with the ePaper but that they don’t feel responsible for solving the connection and other availability problems. A request of many users for a download site was turned down because that would be too big a job. The spokesman promissed a list of known problems and announced to organize a meeting between the NRC and the users.

    After those two weeks NRC became silent again, except for the ‘biweekly’ update. That ‘biweekly’ update appears irregularly (the interval varies between 14 and 45 days) and does not address the questions brought up by the users. It does not even provide an account of the progress or an explanation of the problems, but merely says ‘we know that there are problems and we are working on it’.

    On June 16th the update promissed free extensions of the subcription. The NRC seems to have forgotten this promise, as later updates state that the NRC is considering compensation.

    The list of known problems is still missing and the NRC does not answer questions about the when and the where of the meeting.

  3. @edwin: Thanks for getting in touch, I look forward to what the compensation will be.

    @arno: I understand your frustration, there are a lot of things wrong with the current ePaper version. I also think it has to do that they put it on the market too quickly.

    I am no expert in how newspapers work, but it seems to me that there must be a better solution than the pdf-scan that they currently use. Do other papers (e.g. the NYTimes on the Kindle) use the same method for its e-paper? Are there no .txt files that can be used?

    I get the feeling that NRC underestimated what it takes to set up a successful ePaper, and now does not put sufficient resources on it to make it a success. A lack of subscribers might be an issue (any idea how many people use the iLiad version? I only know two, out of which one did not manage to connect to NRC and gave up!). But in that way it’s a vicious circle, because you’ll never get more subscribers.

    I am still a big believer in e-paper and I hope NRC will manage to solve its problems and treat its customers with respect. If they don’t maybe they should outsource it: I could imagine a start-up making a deal with several newspapers (not only the NRC!) to put their newspaper text into the iLiad, Sony eBook and the Kindle formats. The paper may arrive an hour later or so at first, but eventually I think the whole process could be automated completely. ePaper is here to stay, but maybe a innovative young company is needed to facilitate the break through.

    For me the iLiad version of the NRC is still something I look forward to every day, despite the problems. If NRC people read this: if you need any (free) advice on how to handle your customers or how to improve processes, feel free to get in touch – I am an outsider to traditional media and may be able to help with some fresh new media ideas. I want the NRC iLiad version to be a success!

  4. I am very worried about something that happened yesterday.

    On October, 1st the NRC ePaper subscribers received, by accident, a copy that the journalists of the NRC made for a departing colleague. The next day (yesterday, October, 2nd) this copy was removed of my iLiad, as part of the process of downloading the ePaper of that day.

    Apparently, iRex and/or the NRC are able to remove files from my iLiad without my permission. This seems a very serious security issue. What if, by accident, they had removed the student papers I am currently grading?

    Yesterday evening I published questions about this on the user forum, but, as usual, the NRC did not respond.

    As long as this issue is not resolved I recommend all subscribers to backup their iLiad carefully and to remove all peripheral disks before connecting the iLiad to the delivery service in order to download the NRC! One never knows what will be removed at the next session!

  5. @arno wouters: I actually just blogged about this earlier this evening, although I did not realize how significant it is that they can delete files without the users consent, until I read your comment here.

    I am not surprised it’s technically possible, but I am surprised they have actually used the technique. My first thought was whether they are trying to hide something: why not just upload a second newspaper with the correct articles? The private articles were relatively harmless, and I am sure some people have them on their hard drives already anyway.

    I will start following the NRC forum again as well, would like to see if and how NRC reacts. I still give them the benefit of the doubt, they just don’t understand new media (yet). The fact that they do not respond right away on their own forum is enough proof of that for me.

  6. I guess what happened is that the NRC placed a new file with the same name at the iRex Delivery service (the NRC uses the date as file name), and that our iLiads overwrote the old file with the new one.

    I am very surprised that this possibility exists and very worried about it. My desktop computer never overwrites one file with another without my permission. When I try to download a file with a name that already exists, my computer does not replace the old one, but puts the new one besides the old one (adding a number to the name).

    Given this security error in the software of the iLiad and given the obvious fact that the NRC staff does not understand new media, it comes as no surprise that they made this mistake. ‘Using the technique’ is probably not the right way to describe what they did. They simply wanted to correct an error, made a new edition and placed it on the delivery service without any further thought, relieved that this could be corrected so easily. At least, this is what I guess: as usual there is no explanation or any other response from the part of the NRC.

    There is more reason to worry. According to some users on the forum the iLiad will not only overwrite files without permission (as happened yesterday), it will also automatically execute programs downloaded from the iRex delivery service without any warning or request for permission.

  7. History repeats itself

    The ePaper of Wednesday 9 October misses the most important world news, namely the coordinated interest cut of European and US banks.

  8. Again

    The front page of the ePaper of 10 October 2008 is missing (and several articles are missing or scrambled)

  9. and again ….

    Today’s (13 October 2008) ePaper misses page 3,4,5,8,11,13,15 and 17 in addition to the front page.