There are only two plausible reasons to publish a “digital edition” of a print publication, as the New York Times is now doing in partnership with Microsoft:

  1. To prop up print advertising revenue by artificially increasing the “print” circulation through “digital distribution”

  2. To make a bucket of content, i.e. the print edition, available for “browsing” offline

Although publishers of digital editions will tout #2, the ONLY reason to invest in the cost of a digital edition is #1 because digital editions are fundamentally hostile to readers.

There are two ways to consume print content:

  1. Paper-based, where the print layout is the organizing principle
    1. Digitally, where search, links, tagging, most-viewed/emailed, etc. are the organizing principles

To use the print layout as an organizing principle for digital access actually destroys value for readers, i.e. the Times is taking a purely publisher-centric approach to publishing.

As Jeff Jarvis points out:

Why not design the next frontier for the sharing of news that takes advantage of all the new opportunities technology permits — linking, conversation, multimedia, search, selectivity, depth, currency? Oh, yeah, it was already invented. It’s the web.

And the fact is that offline access is no longer even a valid rationale, given new services like Webaroo that allow you to download buckets of web content to “surf” offline. Digital editions act as walled gardens of content that prevent users from following the dynamic connections between content that the web enables.

Jeff characterizes the Times’ announcement as “two steps backward.” I’d say it’s running full tilt in the wrong direction.