Beyond Print Toolkit: Tablets / E-editions

Stepping stones for digital transformation.

By Shannan Bowen

June 27, 2024

beast01 / Shutterstock

For years, news publishers have offered digital replicas of their newspapers, often called e-editions, to subscribers. While traditionally offered as a digital counterpart to printed newspapers, these replica editions can serve as invaluable tools for bridging the digital divide and guiding readers who have historically preferred print products to online content and subscription offerings.

Publishers transitioning away from print-based models have been successful in utilizing e-editions and replica products to increase subscribers’ use of digital offerings and drive new streams of digital revenue. Instead of viewing e-editions as complementary to print newspapers, publishers now prioritize these products for digital growth, filling gaps when reducing print, and offering additional ways for readers to engage with news and information.

The essentials

Typically, subscribers can access a digital e-edition via a mobile or tablet app, or even from a direct link in a newsletter or on a website. The rise in use of tablet devices has driven a growing availability of e-edition apps for viewing a newspaper replica on a screen that’s larger than one on a mobile phone, offering a better user experience for people wanting to view an entire newspaper layout. According to the Pew Research Center, about six in ten individuals aged 30 to 49 own a tablet, and 53% of people aged 50 to 64 have one. 

An e-edition typically showcases the day’s newspaper, just as it looks in print. But publishers are also getting creative with new use cases, particularly as they become successful in transitioning print subscribers to new digital experiences. Here are a few approaches you can think about beyond a daily replica edition:

  • Dynamic e-edition: Imagine a newspaper that updates as news breaks or new stories are added throughout the day. It won’t happen in print, but dynamic e-editions make it possible for the stories presented in a newspaper format to update in real time throughout the day. When Alabama Media Group decided in 2023 to eliminate its print editions, it created dynamic daily e-editions in its markets across the state. 
  • Extra editions: Reducing or eliminating print on certain days? You can still publish a digital edition in newspaper format through your e-edition, which can especially help ensure subscribers can keep up their regular news habit and continue to find value as they transition to more digital experiences.
  • New products or guides: Ever wanted to launch a special edition or resource guide but print production seemed too costly? You can launch such editions with e-edition tools and offer them to subscribers or even use them for lead generation to convert engaged readers to paying subscribers.

Key indicators

These are a few primary ways publishers can position e-editions for their digital growth strategies:

  • The “stepping stone” approach: Provide a stepping stone to help print-centric subscribers become more comfortable and accustomed to accessing news via digital products and devices, as measured by the following key results:
    • Increase in e-edition access by subscribers
    • Minimized churn among subscribers after print reduction
    • Increase in visits and views to e-edition content by subscribers
  • New revenue: Drive new digital revenue when reducing print pages or editions, measuring the following key performance indicators:
    • Increase in advertising opportunities, such as new ad spots in the e-edition
    • Net new digital subscriptions, drawn in from campaigns referencing e-edition offerings
    • Sponsorships and new revenue generated from e-edition special editions
  • Reduce churn: Increase digital engagement among subscribers, measured by:
    • Pageviews
    • Visits per subscriber each week
    • Reduction in churn for highly engaged subscribers

You’ll ultimately want to choose a strategy that aligns with your overall revenue and audience goals. 


When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shifted to a digital-first business strategy, it didn’t want to leave print subscribers behind, nor make them feel like they’re not receiving the full value the organization offered — even if they were experimenting with print frequency reductions. Inspired by Arkansas-based WEHCO Media, the AJC decided to encourage print subscribers to use its digital products by loaning iPads to them and training them how to use the news organization’s website and digital apps.

Its experiment began in 56 ZIP codes across the Atlanta metro region, with a goal of moving all but one ZIP code to digital-only subscriptions. Subscribers who opted into the program signed an agreement that they would return the loaned iPad if they canceled their subscription. Training was also a key part of the program. The AJC rented local hotel conference rooms and hosted required training sessions on how to use the devices and how to access AJC digital products.

Throughout the trial, the AJC converted 77% of subscribers in the affected ZIP codes to either a digital plus Sunday print or digital-only subscription. Retention was another metric the team studied, finding that customers who opted in for the iPad loan had a higher subscription retention rate than those who did not. Overall the AJC team believed the experiment was a success. Not only was it successful in transitioning print subscribers to digital subscriptions, the iPad program also opened the opportunity for subscriber engagement through training on digital devices and the AJC’s news products. Read our full case study about the program.


Before embarking on a major decision about how to utilize e-editions or tablets as part of your digital transformation strategy, be sure you’re aligned internally on your goals. Are you trying to move more people through the funnel to digital-only products? Or do you aim to position the e-edition as an additional offering when cutting back on print editions?

Once you’ve set your strategy and goals, map out key results you’d like to see. Are you measuring conversions, retention, digital usage, or something else? A test or trial period, like the AJC’s iPad program, is a good way to gather early insights on your plan. You’ll also want to consider these factors:

  • Software and tools: There are several vendors you can use to operate your digital e-edition, and they all offer different features and functionality. For example, PageSuite, one popular option used by The Dallas Morning News and others, offers translation and a pop-out article feature that allows readers to read an article in an enhanced view. Other vendors include Twipe, BLOX, Tecnavia, and more.
  • Team and maintenance: Who will manage your e-edition product? You’ll want to think through the needs for customer service, publishing content, and ongoing maintenance. If you’re using a vendor, a best practice is to assign a main point of contact from your team to coordinate all aspects of work with the outside firm.
  • Offers and marketing: Even if you’re not embarking on an ambitious iPad loan program like the AJC, there are many other ways to promote your e-edition and position it effectively for your digital strategy. Special offers and subscriber-only features or editions can often entice print subscribers to transition to digital subscriptions. Don’t underestimate the power of communication and training, though. As AJC found, helping subscribers learn more about digital features and devices helped them become more comfortable with a digital-only subscription. If you’re launching a new edition or an update, try publishing a how-to guide in both digital and print to teach your subscribers how to use it. Keep in mind that the e-edition is a new product they may be using on a device that might also feel unfamiliar. Showing you’re there to support them and guide them will go a long way to building trust and loyalty.

Here are a few additional resources to guide your iPad and e-edition strategy:

  • The Local News Initiative’s case study of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s iPad program
  • A case study of how Alabama Media Group replaced its print editions with The Lede, a subscriber-only e-edition.
  • Poynter’s article on how e-editions have become strategic products
  • Twipe’s guide on ways to grow e-edition usage
  • FIPP’s post on best practices for digital replicas.
  • A Better News case study on how The State uses its e-edition to increase loyalty
  • Poynter’s article on how The Spokesman-Review brought back its evening edition as an e-edition

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