If you are a news junkie and own a tablet, do yourself a favour and check out PressReader.
In my opinion, it's the best digital news app to come along since Zite and it was developed right here in Vancouver (Richmond, actually.)
PressReader (formerly PressDisplay) is a digital news stand with a catalogue of more than 2,000 dailies from 121 countries – including nearly 300 Canadian newspapers – delivered to your tablet for about the same price you pay for home delivery of a single major daily ($30 per month.)
These are not digital scrapings of news websites, but full newspapers – ads and all – presented in a well-designed app with some very cool features, including translation.
Users have two options: Buy single copies of any newspaper for $0.99, or pay a monthly subscription of $30 to access the whole catalogue of newspapers.
When you download a paper, you have the option to have it automatically download every morning, and you can keep issues for up to two weeks.
PressReader is to newspapers what Netflix is to TV, except that it's more comprehensive. It doesn't have The Financial Times or the national edition of the New York Times in its catalogue yet, though it does have the international editions of the NYT. Otherwise it's pretty comprehensive.
PressReader also has some magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and Men's Health, but they are hard to find, because the publications are ordered by country and language, so you have to fish around for them. This is one area PressReader needs to improve: Better categorization of its publications.
It also needs to fix a few glitches, although it appears these glitches are related to the fact that PressReader is HTML5 based, and some operating systems (Windows 8, for example) work better than, say, IOS. I get frequent crashes on my old first-generation iPad, and when I try to share a story on Twitter of Facebook, I can't sign into either because no keyboard function is offered.
NewspaperDirect (recently rebranded PressReader) has spent years 15 years building up a portfolio of licensing agreements with the world's major news publications. It's that comprehensive licensing arrangement that may give PressReader an edge in the growing digital news space.
"We are the only company that went through a tremendous effort to actually license content," PressReader's chief innovation officer Alex Gruntsev said. "We're not just scraping websites."
I use several news apps, including two news aggregators – Zite and Flipboard – and I am currently trying out Next Issue (Rogers' digital magazine app), which I quite like. I have also subscribed to Readr (I like the magazines, hate the app.)
The problem with Readr and Next Issue is that you either have to subscribe to both ($10 a month each) or decide which one has the best selection of magazines.
PressReader, by contrast, has nearly daily newspaper you can think of, and quite a few you may have never heard of – from the Moose Jaw Times-Herald to the Croatian daily Vecernji List.
Can't read Croatian? No worries - among PressReader's many cool functions is translation. Another cool feature: You can listen to your newspaper. The app will actually read your newspaper to you while you are driving. You can share stories you are reading on Twitter, Facebook or by email, save articles to Instapaper or print them off.
My favourite feature is a text option, which you won't find in digital magazine apps like Next Issue.
Even on a large tablet screen, reading a full news page can be a pain, and it's even worse on a smartphone. PressReader highlights all headlines, and when you touch it, a simple text version of the story flips open that is much easier to read.
I've been using the app for a few weeks now. Every evening, I get the next day's edition of The New York Times (international version) and The Guardian. And every morning, I wake up to The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun and National Post.
The only drawback is that I often don't have time to read all the papers that I now have access to. This could be a problem.
The average consumer may not be willing to shell out $30 a month for thousands of digital newspapers that he or she will never have time to read.
Gruntsev said the subscription rates will eventually come down. The company also plans to make a free news aggregator feature – which is already available on the PressReader website and on smartphone apps – available in tablet apps. It gives you the top stories of the day.
The PressReader app is available for IOS, Blackberry, Android, Windows and Kindle devices.
Newspaper publishers are no doubt already familiar with the company that developed PressReader: NewspaperDirect, the Richmond-based company that built a business digitizing and printing newspapers on demand for hotels around the world.
Many newspapers use the company's technology. The Globe and Mail's digital edition Globe2Go, for example, uses PressReader's platform. The company's digital newspapers have also been used for years in thousands of libraries around the world.
Founded in 1999 with five people, the company now employs 130 people in Richmond. To date, the company has been strictly B2B, but thanks to the rise of the tablet, it is now becoming more consumer-focused.
So what's in it for newspapers? Will it help them cross the digital divide, or cut into the print side of their business?
For its subscription service, PressReader works on a revenue sharing model. Newspapers get a cut of subscription revenue, based on how many people are reading their paper, and currently Gruntsev said there are roughly 100,000 subscribers worldwide.
Obviously, if only a dozen of those subscribers are reading The Cape Breton Post on a daily basis on PressReader, it's not going to mean a lot of revenue for that paper. But if those readers are expats living in Australia, that's a dozen more readers than the paper might otherwise have.
Just as Netflix has not displaced regular cable TV in any great numbers (cable TV cord cutters are still relatively few in number, according to recent studies), I can't see PressReader replacing print newspapers, either, but augmenting them.
There will always be those who prefer to read books, magazines and newspapers in print. This just gives hardcore news consumers greater access to more newspapers than they ever have before.